Special books from Macmillan put magic into Christmas - book reviews

Enjoy an enchanting new journey into Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, meet a mouse on a mission, enter a magical world of macabre snowglobes, and spend Christmas with the Moomins in a fantastic festive selection from Macmillan Children's Books.

Monday, 26th November 2018, 12:08 pm
Updated Monday, 26th November 2018, 12:15 pm
Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli by Katherine Rundell and Kristjana S Williams
Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli by Katherine Rundell and Kristjana S Williams

Age 7 plus:

Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli by Katherine Rundell and Kristjana S Williams

If you are looking for an extra special Christmas book for your youngsters this year, then step into a wild and wonderful adventure inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s thrilling classic The Jungle Book.

This gorgeous anthology of stories by award-winning author Katherine Rundell features all the Kipling animal characters we know and love, and is packed with the breathtakingly detailed and dramatic illustrations of outstanding artist Kristjana S Williams.

Rundell harnesses the spirit and adventure of the traditional tales to create a series of enchanting and inventive backstories for all Kipling’s best-known characters, from Baloo and Shere Khan to Kaa and Bagheera.

The Jungle Book, first published by Macmillan in 1894, remains one of the most enduring books of children’s literature and Rundell has taken this as the basis of her inspired jungle odyssey, sharing the early years of favourite characters to create the creatures they become in Kipling’s classic.

The result is a series of fantastic jungle adventures about family and friendship, loyalty and jungle law, and a final battle which will decide the future of the forest. As Mowgli travels through the Indian jungle, Rundell’s brilliantly visual tale weaves together each short story into a wider panorama, and is guaranteed to make readers both laugh and cry.

Both author and illustrator capture the raw and unforgiving realities of nature but also its exhilarating wildness and extraordinary blend of colour, beauty and unpredictability.

With its foiled book cover, ribbon marker, creative storytelling and magnificent illustrations, this is a book that all the family will love, share and treasure.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £16.99)

Age 5 plus:

How Winston Delivered Christmas: An Advent Story in Twenty-Four-and-a-Half Chapters by Alex T. Smith

Here’s a gift book that offers both brilliant storytelling and a sackful of creative Christmas activities!

Writer and illustrator Alex T. Smith invites everyone to join Winston the mouse for storytelling, adventure and creative fun in an innovative and entertaining book that is perfect for sharing in the run-up to Christmas.

How Winston Delivered Christmas is written in 24½ chapters… one to share every day leading up to Christmas, and with each chapter featuring its own Christmas activities for families and friends to make together.

On Christmas Eve, Winston the mouse finds a letter to Father Christmas that didn’t make it to the post box. Follow Winston as he sets out through the festive city to deliver Oliver’s letter to Father Christmas on Christmas Eve. He has a lot of Very Exciting Adventures on this Very Important Mission and makes some wonderful friends along the way. He also learns that a good deed can lead to a very happy ending!

Like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, each day also features festive things to make and do… you can go on a Christmas scavenger hunt, write a letter to Father Christmas, make mince pies and stained-glass window biscuits, and make your own Christmas cards, presents, decorations and crackers.

Filled with bright and bold illustrations, and the author’s natural warmth and insight into what makes Christmas exciting for children, this wonderful book is destined to become a family favourite that will be returned to every year in the run up to Christmas.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 3 plus:

Christmas Comes to Moominvalley by Tove Jansson, Alex Haridi, Cecilia Davidsson and Filippa Widlund

It’s over 70 years since the first book featuring The Moomins was published but Tove Jansson’s globally treasured stories continue to delight generations of children.

The Moomins are a lovable family of roundish fairy tale characters with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotami and were created by Jansson, a celebrated Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator artist, political cartoonist and author who died in 2001.

Christmas Comes to Moominvalley, an exquisitely illustrated re-telling of Jansson’s classic story The Fir Tree, is part of a publishing partnership between Macmillan Children’s Books and the Moomin brand.

The Moomin family are woken up from their winter sleep by a cross Hemulen to be told that ‘Christmas’ is coming and they can’t possibly sleep through it. The only trouble is, the Moomins have never heard of Christmas and have no idea what all the fuss is about! They are just going to have to learn what Christmas is and what it means…

This beautiful, collectible and classic picture book, sensitively adapted by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson, captures Jansson’s uniquely wise, perceptive and original voice, is perfectly paired with Filippa Widlund’s delicate, painterly illustrations, full of character and detail and based on Jansson’s original drawings and colour plates.

A new generation of readers will love the adorable Moomin family and friends, and their special values of tolerance, kindness and integrity, as they prepare for their first Christmas. Lavishly embossed and foiled, this is a delightful reworking of a classic tale…

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

Inventive author Amy Wilson is proving that she certainly has the magic touch when it comes to children’s adventure stories.

Snowglobe, a swirling, soaring, snow-filled odyssey set in a fantastical but darkly dangerous world, is the extraordinary follow-up to the Branford Boase-longlisted novel A Girl Called Owl starring a girl who discovers her father is Jack Frost, and A Far Away Magic which sees two troubled youngsters venture into a world of terrifying monsters.

In this new wintertime thriller, Wilson’s imagination moves into a powerful overdrive as we embark on a weird and wonderful journey into a land of enchanted but sinister snowglobes where people with magic in their souls are being held captive.

When daydreamer Clementine (Clem) Gravett discovers a mysterious house standing in the middle of town that was never there before, she is pulled towards it by the powerful sense of a mother she never knew. The place is full of hundreds of snowglobes, swirling with stars and snow, and each containing a trapped magician, watched over by Gan, the bitter keeper of the house.

One of the prisoners is Dylan, the boy who bullies her at school in the real world but who is now desperate for her help. So Clem ventures into the snowglobes, rescuing Dylan from permanent winter and discovering her own powerful connection to the magic of these thousand worlds.

Vowing to release the magicians from the control of their enchantments, Clem unknowingly unleashes a struggle for power that will not only put her family, but the future of magic itself, in danger…

Snowglobe is a captivating and exciting adventure full of mystery, icy magic and malevolence, but it is also a tender and insightful exploration of self-discovery, growing up, friendship and loyalty which cannot help but capture the hearts and imaginations of middle-grade readers.

The perfect Christmas gift for your young adventurers!

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

Age 9 plus:

Poems to Live Your Life By by Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell

When you combine beautiful poetry with rich, emotive illustrations, the result can only be breathtaking.

Award-winning illustrator, political cartoonist and former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell brings his considerable artistic talents, a lifelong love of poetry, and even a funny, poignant poem about childhood penned by his own hand, to this thoughtful and lovingly curated anthology.

From musings, youth, family and love to imaginings, nature, war and endings, these are poems from the past and present, classic and contemporary, which reflect Riddell’s own life journey, and cover the span from birth to death and everything in between.

Each of the forty-six poems in this magnificent collection is exquisitely illustrated with Riddell’s intricate, detailed and supremely expressive black and white illustrations which bring energy, power and added meaning and insight to the inspirational words on the page.

Classic verses from William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, W. B. Yeats and Christina Rossetti sit alongside poems from Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Carol Ann Duffy, Neil Gaiman and Roger McGough. And there are a few surprise inclusions along the way as Riddell has also chosen some of his favourite song lyrics to help engage young people with poetry in another form.

From the rage of Wilfred Owen’s famous war poem Dulce et Decorum Est and the lazy, hazy ethereal beauty of John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale to the forlorn longing of Nick Cave’s Love Letter and the family affection resplendent in Seamus Heaney’s Digging, these are poems to impress and inspire a new generation of poetry lovers.

The anthology is a clever and compelling celebration of the power of poetry to give meaning to the ordinary, the moving and the celebratory. And Riddell hopes his illustrations will enhance the experience of the reader. When he illustrates poems, he aims to be akin to a performance poet, guiding the reader to the rhythms and tones of the poem, and to the parts that elicit our emotions.

The perfect Christmas gift for poetry lovers of any age, and a thing of beauty to be savoured and treasured.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai

There’s an animal adventure on every page in a thrilling alphabet book from the nation’s favourite children’s author, Julia Donaldson, and visionary illustrator Sharon King-Chai.

This exquisite alphabet exploration of the animal world comes with a multitude of intriguing peep-through pages and visually exciting fold-out flaps.

Written as an interactive guessing game, with eye-catching artwork and an exotic array of animals to marvel over, this is a visual and verbal feast that children will love and treasure.

As you journey through the natural world, can you guess who has more legs than a butterfly, who is wrinklier than a hedgehog, who is more wobbly than an iguana and who can butt better than a flamingo?

Each page draws you further into a beautifully vibrant world of huge elephants, slithery snakes and growling tigers, inviting youngsters to compare one animal to another, and learn comparison words and adjectives from the natural world.

Sharon King-Chai’s sumptuous, vibrant artwork, the cleverly designed and shaped pages, and Julia Donaldson’s rhythmic words make Animalphabet a rich learning experience and a delight to read aloud and share.

(Two Hoots Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Girl, the Bear and the Magic Shoes by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

It’s best feet forward – or should that be shoes? – in a glittering new adventure from the magical picture book partnership of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.

Author Julia Donaldson, best known as co-creator of the runaway bestseller The Gruffalo, and illustrator Lydia Monks introduce a delightful new star in this gorgeous book which overflows with colour, fun and irresistible rhyming refrains.

Josephine loves nothing better than running and heads off to the shops for some lovely new running shoes. But when Josephine leaves the shoe shop after buying some perfect red trainers labelled ‘Magic Shoes,’ she hears an unusual sound… Click-click! Click-click! And when she turns round, a bear with a backpack is following her! Luckily for Josephine, her new shoes are anything but ordinary – they really are magic! But can they help her escape the bear when there’s a mountain, a bog and even a lake in her way? And is the bear chasing Josephine, or just trying to catch up with her?

The Girl, the Bear and the Magic Shoes – complete with a delightful surprise at the end – is an enchanting and proactive story for young adventurers. Little ones will love joining in with the joyful catchphrases and spotting the clever details hidden in Monks’ imaginative and vibrant illustrations which come with glitter on every page.

With its sparkling cover, glitter on every page, endearing humour and addictive wordplay, this is a superbly packaged book just made for Christmas stockings!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Snowball by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, the formidable duo who created the bestselling Supertato picture books, have compacted their talents into one big snowball in this this runaway Christmas special!

Snowball combines cleverly comical and creative illustrations with a rhyming romp of a story that follows a lonely little snowball who picks up more than a few sticks and stones as he sets off on a roll down a steep mountain slope.

Stuck at the top of a mountain, he decides to visit the local town for a bit of fun but on his way he trips over a pesky old twig, falls, and starts to roll… and when a snowball rolls through snow, we all know what happens. This snowball picks up not only snow, but a whole host of other odd things on his way down… a sheep, a line of washing, a bicycling bear, and even a whole zoo!

This marvellously wintry and wonderful story combines pictures and words in a fantastic fusion of fun and adventure which will delight the family’s youngest members… and is the perfect warm-up for the season of snow and ice.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Most-Loved Bear by Sam McBratney and Sam Usher

Some books truly capture hearts… and this gorgeous picture book featuring the adventures and misadventures of a teddy bear over half a century is about as cuddly as it gets!

Growly Bear and Mary Rose do everything together. Until, one day, Growly Bear is left behind on a train. He’s sure that Mary Rose will come back for him but, as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months, Growly Bear’s fur get worn, his eye comes loose and his growl starts to fade. Then, a child picks him up! But it isn’t the child he was expecting... will Growly Bear ever find his way back to Mary Rose?

Sam McBratney, author of one of world's bestselling picture books, Guess How Much I Love You, and talented illustrator Sam Usher pool their considerable skills for this warm, wise and captivating picture book which is brimming with the spirit of youthful energy and a reassuring brand of eternal love and constancy that will appeal to both children and adults.

With its festive-themed cover, its joyful celebration of both youth and age, and an ending that will bring tears to many an eye, this is a Christmas gift book to share and treasure.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age one plus:

Snowy Animals by Jenny Wren

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an inventive board book to let the youngest family members get in on the fun, so let them push, pull and slide the tabs in three gorgeous interactive board books.

In Snowy Animals – a playful new addition to Campbell Books’ exciting First Explorers series – little ones discover a winter wonderland of snow, ice, and amazing animals as they explore rocky mountains and snowy forests in icy Antarctica.

Children will love playing with the easy-to-handle mechanisms as they follow the simple story, learn fun facts and spot polar bears, snow leopards and penguins, as well as lots of other amazing animals who live in snowy habitats.

Perfect for little hands and with plenty to talk about and things to spot on every page, Snowy Animals is beautifully illustrated by Jenny Wren, and provides gentle early learning and a magical introduction to the natural world for small children.

Busy Elves by Lindsay Dale Scott

In Busy Elves, children can push and pull the tabs and turn the wheel to help Santa’s elves in the workshop. Children will love working alongside the elves to make, wrap and pack the presents as Santa gets ready to set off on his magical Christmas Eve journey.

This bright and colourful board book with gentle rhyming text and wonderful illustrations by Lindsay Dale Scott is part of the popular Busy Books series.

With plenty to talk about and things to find on every page, Santa is sure to find lots more willing helpers!

First Stories: The Snow Queen by Dan Taylor

And watch little faces light up as they enjoy a bright and colourful interactive introduction to a classic fairy tale. Push, pull, slide and turn the mechanisms to bring the story of the evil Snow Queen to life and introduce the familiar characters.

Gerda and Kay lived happily as best friends for years until a goblin’s mirror hurt poor Kay and his laughter turned to tears. And when he is kidnapped by the wicked Snow Queen, Gerda is determined to find her friend and free him from the Ice Palace.

This well-loved fairy tale is beautifully imagined for a new generation by children’s illustrator Dan Taylor.

(Campbell Books, board books, £5.99 each)