How does Santa get down the chimney? Discover the answer in one of this year’s best books


CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

BUNNIES IN A SLEIGH

by Philip Ardagh Illustrated by Ben Mantle

(Walker £12.99, 32 pp)

The bonkers, bouncing bunnies are back in a new adventure, just in time to help Santa when his elves fall ill after gorging on sugary treats. They slide down chimneys, stuff themselves into stockings and get mixed up in mistletoe as Christmas Eve descends into chaos, vividly illustrated with Mantle’s manic expressions.

THE SNOWMAN AND THE ROBIN

by Michael Foreman

(Scholastic £12.99, 32 pp)

This gorgeous book is a variation on Raymond Briggs’s classic Snowman outing. Here a little robin encourages the lonely park snowman to follow him on a journey around the city of London, showing him how varied and exciting the human world is, even if he has only a short time to enjoy it. A gentle delight.

With Bunnies In A Sleigh, the bonkers, bouncing bunnies are back in a new adventure, just in time to help Santa when his elves fall ill after gorging on sugary treats

With Bunnies In A Sleigh, the bonkers, bouncing bunnies are back in a new adventure, just in time to help Santa when his elves fall ill after gorging on sugary treats

GIRAFFE AND A HALF

by Nicola Kent

(Andersen £12.99, 32 pp)

Giraffe (and a half) has six legs and three ears, which is great for listening to birdsong and stomping on leaves, but makes her feel different from the rest of the animals, so she hides away. But a wise bird points out that maybe they think she’s strange simply because she doesn’t join in? A sunny, inspiring lesson.

HOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?

by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Jon Klassen

(Walker £12.99, 32 pp) 

Klassen’s surreal, slyly witty drawings reflect the absurdity of trying to solve the mystery of how Father Christmas delivers all those presents on Christmas Eve. Barnett’s deadpan humour is perfect for reading aloud, as various suggestions — does he slip under the door like a folded envelope? — are investigated. A must.

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM

by Neil Gaiman

(Bloomsbury £12.99, 32 pp)

This timely book is a reminder of the basic human need for comfort and shelter. In 2019, writer Neil Gaiman asked his Twitter followers ‘what reminds you of warmth?’ and composed a poem based on their replies. Sales from this edition, illustrated by leading artists, will help support the UN Refugee Agency.

RED IS HOME

by Emma Bettridge Illustrated by Josephine Birch

(Graffeg £8.99, 40 pp)

Red the dog has two homes and in each he is allowed to do different things by different owners. He’s happy, but when one family move house Red is consumed by anxiety and fear — what will his new home be like? This reassuring book shows that as long as you are loved, new challenges can be overcome.

In How Does Santa Go Down The Chminey?, Klassen’s surreal, slyly witty drawings reflect the absurdity of trying to solve the mystery of how Father Christmas delivers all those presents on Christmas Eve

In How Does Santa Go Down The Chminey?, Klassen’s surreal, slyly witty drawings reflect the absurdity of trying to solve the mystery of how Father Christmas delivers all those presents on Christmas Eve

MOUSE AND MOLE: BOO TO THE WHO

by Joyce Dunbar Illustrated by James Mayhew

(Graffeg £8.99, 32 pp)

Another sublime outing for Mouse and Mole in three little snapshots of friendship and understanding. Ebullient Mouse teaches anxious Mole to enjoy the moment, to conquer his fears and to be optimistic about the future with kindly, dry humour and cosy illustrations. This series gets better and better.

D IS FOR DOG

by Em Lynas Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

(Nosy Crow £9.99, 32 pp)

What better way to learn the alphabet than in the company of madcap, excitable dogs and puppies. M is for Muddy, N is for Napping and Q is for Quietly chewing a shoe . . . a jaunty rhyme scheme and hugely entertaining illustrations make this perfect for a first-time reader.

GIGANTIC

by Rob Biddulph

(Harper Collins £12.99, 32 pp)

Gigantic the tiny blue whale is bullied by his huge brother, Titan, so finds his own fun with Myrtle the turtle.

But the little pair prove that being small can be just as powerful when Titan gets himself into some serious trouble. Biddulph’s stunning underwater artwork and the heartwarming message are blissful.

GEOFFREY GETS THE JITTERS

by Nadia Shireen

(Puffin £7.99, 32 pp)

From the author of Barbara Throws A Wobbler comes an equally brilliant look at childhood anxieties as Geoffrey feels wriggly jitters in his tummy as he worries about everything — including being stomped on by dinosaurs. Luckily, he learns a few tricks to chase them away. Comes with a giggly guide to different jitters.

Geoffrey feels wriggly jitters in his tummy as he worries about everything in Geoffrey Gets The Jitters

Geoffrey feels wriggly jitters in his tummy as he worries about everything in Geoffrey Gets The Jitters  

YOUNG ADULT 

OURS FROM THE TOWER

by Sally Nicholls

(Andersen Press £14.99, 368pp)

Separated over the summer of 1896, three teenage girls write each other gossipy letters.

In Scotland, impulsive Tirzah feels trapped by her harsh grandmother, kindly Polly is teaching in an orphanage and Sophia is forced to seek a rich husband in London society. Their contrasting fates are played out with dry, adolescent wit against a backdrop of feminist frustration.

THIEVES’ GAMBIT

by Kayvion Lewis

(S&S £8.99, 384pp)

When her mother, a super-thief, is kidnapped, 17-year-old Ross (also a criminal) enters the secretive Thieves’ Gambit competition where the winner has one wish granted — so Ross could save her mum. But after each task the weakest player is expelled. Should Ross team up with someone or go it alone? Terrific fun with great characters and edge-of-the seat tension.

PLAY

by Luke Palmer

(Firefly Press £8.99, 320pp)

Four teenage boys — Matthew, Mark, Luc and Johnny — indulge in banter, games and planning futures, each battling their own problems. But no one knows how deeply Mark has been lured into selling drugs until it’s too late. Narrated by three of the very distinct characters, this is a brave, gritty exploration of toxic masculinity, sex, loss of innocence and peer pressure.

YOU COULD BE SO PRETTY

By Holly Bourne

(Usborne £8.99, 400pp)

Belle and Joni live in a dystopian world where only Masks and Beauty are prized and Belle works hard to look perfect. But Joni is an Objectionable, a girl who rejects the rules and is shunned. Yet what if both could find a way to break free? A powerful look at the modern obsession with image that has a surprising and provocative twist that gives it extra edge.

In Bunnies In A Sleigh, the bunnies slide down chimneys, stuff themselves into stockings and even get mixed up in mistletoe

In Bunnies In A Sleigh, the bunnies slide down chimneys, stuff themselves into stockings and even get mixed up in mistletoe

POETRY 

WHALE OF A TIME

Selected by Lou Peacock Illustrated by Matt Hunt

(Nosy Crow £25, 352pp)

What a gorgeous book this is. A collection of 366 funny poems and rib-tickling illustrations with contributions from poets as varied as Spike Milligan and Christina Rossetti. Many are short and sharp, some longer and traditional, but all are guaranteed to raise a smile or a giggle whatever age you are.

GODS AND MONSTERS

Edited by Ana Sampson Illustrated by Chris Riddell

(Macmillan £14.99, 320pp)

From the earliest verse of Norse mythology to ancient Greece and Egypt to modern poets such as Joseph Coelho and the late Benjamin Zephaniah, gods and monsters have proved rich material for the imagination. This varied and wonderfully illustrated collection of old and original mythological poetry is a treasure chest.

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING’S CHRISTMAS SHENANIGANS

by Alex T Smith

(Macmillan £15.99, 176pp)

This cracking variation on the classic Nutcracker story is written in 24-and-half chapters, like an advent calendar, as the Mouse King’s Shenanigans threaten to ruin the Big Day. Can Clara and Fritz find the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Kingdom of Sweets in time to break the spell? Bursting with energy, it’s riotous.

YOUNG FICTION 

THE PUPPETS OF SPELHORST

by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Julie Morstad

(Walker £10, 160 pp)

This is a polished little gem. Locked away in a trunk are five puppets: a king, a wolf, a girl, a boy and an owl, bought by an old sea captain with a broken heart. A family with two daughters buys them to enact a play, but nobody can guess where the story will end.

Atmospheric black and white drawings add to the short but absorbing drama.

THE ICE CHILDREN

by M.G. Leonard

Illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee

(Macmillan £12.99, 288 pp)

Finn is discovered frozen but just alive on a pedestal of ice in the park, and every day more children are found. His older sister, Bianca, investigates the link between them, which leads her to a frosty underworld where the Snow Queen is dying and needs children to keep her alive.

Drawing on traditional tales such as The Snow Queen, this suspenseful eco-drama is perfect for winter nights.

In Mouse and Mole: Boo To The Who, ebullient Mouse teaches anxious Mole to enjoy the moment, to conquer his fears and to be optimistic about the future

In Mouse and Mole: Boo To The Who, ebullient Mouse teaches anxious Mole to enjoy the moment, to conquer his fears and to be optimistic about the future

THE WONDER BROTHERS

by Frank Cottrell Boyce

(Macmillan £12.99, 272 pp)

When Perplexion, an enigmatic magician, makes the Blackpool Tower disappear, aspiring conjurer cousins Middy and Nathan rashly promise to bring it back.

This involves a nightmare trip to Las Vegas with their older cousin and a giant rabbit (yes, really) to uncover some astonishing secrets. Magnificently mad.

WOLF ROAD

by Alice Roberts

(S&S £14.99, 336 pp)

If you like your history red in tooth and claw, this debut from the historian and TV presenter serves up a feast!

As prehistoric teenage Tuuli travels with her mother’s tribe from their winter camp to the summer one, she is rescued by a young man who looks different from her own people.

Will the clan reject or accept him? And will Tuuli be tempted by the possibility of a wider, unknown world?

OSCAR’S LION

by Adam Baron Illustrated by Benji Davies

(Harper Collins £12.99, 192 pp)

Imagine waking up to see a lion sleeping in your parents’ empty bed… this is what happens to Oscar, who is badly bullied at school and is grieving for his dead grandma — but he unexpectedly finds that the lion helps him confront his worst fears.

With a delightful twist, this sensitive but also funny book looks at grief, love, fear and families.

IMPOSSIBLE CREATURES

by Katherine Rundell

(Bloomsbury £14.99, 368 pp)

This wonderfully imaginative story, Rundell’s first in a trilogy, is both exhilarating and moving. Christopher learns that his reclusive Scottish grandfather is the guardian of a portal to Archipelago, an enchanted place where mythical beasts live.

But the boundary between the two worlds is weakening, so together with Mal, a flying girl, he must discover who has penetrated the ancient centre — at heartbreaking cost.

Bunnies In A Sleigh is vividly illustrated with Ben Mantle's chaotic expressions

Bunnies In A Sleigh is vividly illustrated with Ben Mantle’s chaotic expressions 

IN THE SHADOW OF THE WOLF QUEEN

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

(Orion £14.99, 320 pp)

When an earthquake tears a rift in the village and her older sister Hari suddenly ‘disappears’, orphaned Ysolda and her sea hawk reluctantly form an alliance with the Wolf Queen, who promises to release Hari if Ysolda leads her to the End-World Wood where there’s a hidden threat to the queen’s rule.

This dark adventure weaves myths and natural phenomena in a twisty web.

FOXLIGHT

by Katya Balen

(Bloomsbury £12.99, 272 pp)

Balen’s beautiful story follows two very different sisters, abandoned by their mother in a wood as babies and now living in a safe, kind children’s home.

But they believe a wild fox can lead them to their mum if they are brave enough to trust it.

Each sister surprises the other in this perceptive, highly original adventure.

ISLAND OF WHISPERS

by Frances Hardinge Illustrated by Emily Gravett

(Two Hoots £14.99, 120 pp)

This is a powerful, stunningly illustrated, gothic fantasy exploring death, grief, destiny and identity from an outstanding author/artist team.

After Milo’s father, The Ferryman who carries dead souls to Broken Tower Island, is killed, Milo must transport the daughter of a nobleman who can’t accept her death and tries to save her. In a thrilling chase, Milo battles dangerous enemies.

THE RESCUE OF RAVENWOOD

by Natasha Farrant

(Faber £7.99, 352 pp)

An environmental disaster threatens Ravenswood, a rambling old country house with an ancient tree where Bea, 11, has been raised by her Uncle Leo alongside Leo’s stepson, Raffy.

One summer, local girl Noa reluctantly comes to stay, but proves invaluable when the children fight a developer’s threat to their ancient home, breaking all the rules. A breathless adventure.

NON-FICTION

BRITANNICA’S ENCYCLOPEDIA INFOGRAPHICA

by Andrew Pettie & Conrad Quilty-Harper

(Britannica Books £25, 336 pp)

Hoover up the contents of this fact-filled volume to be the next Mastermind winner. The oldest musical instrument (a bone flute), the deadliest animal (mosquito), the biggest flower (Rafflesia arnoldii) are all represented in more than 200 fantastic infographics, maps, charts and timelines by award-winning Valentina D’Efilippo. One for all the family.

HOW TO SPAGHETTIFY YOUR DOG

by Hiba Noor Khan Illustrated by Harry Woodgate

(Bloomsbury £8.99, 64 pp)

If you were bamboozled by physics at school, this fact-packed, funny book will fill in all the (black) holes in your knowledge. It looks at the universe from supernovas to quantum physics, with lots of simple experiments and entertaining drawings to help clarify complex concepts. Although you’ll be relieved that no one else really understands what Dark Matter is either . . .

In Oscar's Lion, young Oscar wakes waking up to see a lion sleeping in his parents’ empty bed

In Oscar’s Lion, young Oscar wakes waking up to see a lion sleeping in his parents’ empty bed

A REALLY SHORT JOURNEY THROUGH THE BODY

by Bill Bryson

(Puffin £25, 144 pp)

This adaptation of Bryson’s best-selling The Body is aimed squarely at children, starting with the creation of a single cell and ending — of course — with death (and how to cheat it) . Along the way we meet Dr Beaumont, who was able to lick the inside of his patient’s stomach, and we analyse a fart. What’s not to like?

WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?

By Adam Rutherford Illustrated by Adam Ming

(Wren & Rook £9.99, 192 pp)

Whatever our skin colour, language or religion, we are all related through the same pool of ancestors, as scientist, writer and broadcaster Rutherford proves. This intriguing study is not just overflowing with information but asks provocative questions about race and the history of racial stereotyping. And it’s tremendous fun!

A FIRST BOOK OF DINOSAURS

by Simon Mole Illustrated by Matt Hunt

(Walker £16.99, 80 pp)

Even the youngest of children are fascinated by dinosaurs, and this clever, vivid picture book uses funny poems to introduce simple facts about these extinct creatures.

For instance, the Cedarosaurus gulped down twigs whole then swallowed small stones to grind them into food. And be honest, who doesn’t want to know about different sorts of dinosaur poo?



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