Book reviews: A winter wonderland of Christmas children's books

Meet a toy rabbit who wishes he was real, discover an amazing menagerie of 3D animals and get busy with some exciting Christmas activity books.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 23rd November 2016, 6:29 pm
Updated Friday, 25th November 2016, 9:34 am
Meet a toy rabbit who wishes he was real, discover an amazing menagerie of 3D animals and get busy with some exciting Christmas activity books.
Meet a toy rabbit who wishes he was real, discover an amazing menagerie of 3D animals and get busy with some exciting Christmas activity books.

Age 5 plus:

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Illustrated by Sarah Massini

Christmas books are always special… and here’s a beautiful, much-loved classic that doesn’t just look good, it feels good too!

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The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams’ warm and beguiling tale of a toy rabbit who longs to be real, was first published in 1922 and became an instant favourite for generations of children.

Williams was born in London in 1881 and lived in England, America and Italy. She wrote numerous books for adults and children but The Velveteen Rabbit was by far the most famous and best-loved loved of her stories. She died in 1944.

This new, lavishly produced and illustrated version, printed on touchy-feely Munken paper and with a fully-foiled cloth binding and ribbon marker, is just the first book in a new classic series from Nosy Crow children’s publishers.

And young readers will be enchanted not just by the story of Rabbit and his friends but by the heartwarming illustrations of the very talented Sarah Massini whose gorgeous gallery of colourful pictures has a warm, nostalgic feel, with each character perfectly portrayed and with all the charm and atmosphere of the original book uncompromised.

When the Velveteen Rabbit first arrives in the nursery, he is snubbed by the other toys but he soon makes friends with the old, shabby Skin Horse who explains how toys can become ‘real’ only if they are loved enough.

The Velveteen Rabbit longs for this to happen until one day he finds that he is Boy’s very favourite toy. They play together through a long, golden summer and even though Rabbit becomes shabbier and shabbier, he becomes ‘real’ to the Boy who loves him so much. The rabbits in the garden are not convinced… how can Rabbit be real when he can’t leap and hop?

But when Boy is ill and Rabbit is thrown away, Rabbit finally discovers what it truly means to be real. As he sheds a tear, a magical fairy transforms him into a real, wild rabbit, though her parting words remind him that he was always real to the boy because he loved him.

Williams’ timeless picture book classic has been read and cherished for decades and now this sumptuous, highly illustrated edition is the perfect Christmas gift to treasure and share with all the family… and anyone who believes in the power of love.

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £14.99)

Age 9 plus:

Knowledge Encyclopedia Animal!

Get ready to be amazed… by the jaw-dropping, heart-thumping, pulse-racing animal kingdom as you have never before seen it!

Dorling Kindersley’s Knowledge Encyclopedia Animal! is one of the most exciting books on the natural world bookshelf and a heaven-sent gift for animal lovers young and old.

Using a groundbreaking visual approach to the animal kingdom, illustrated with the latest computer-generated technology, the pages of this spectacular book are packed with crystal clear CGI artworks which reveal not only the details impossible to capture using traditional photography but also the spectacular variety of animals, from the tiniest crustaceans to the mightiest mammals.

From the wings of the majestic albatross to the deadly deeds of the great white shark, this wonderful book of facts and pictures helps youngsters explore everything from habitats and ecosystems to senses and respiration.

Encounter every kind of creature from the tiny water flea to the mighty blue whale. Examine the shimmering scales on a butterfly’s wing, the jagged edge of a tiger’s tooth and the poison spur of a platypus. Find out how ants communicate, what penguins do to protect their young and why chameleons change colour.

Easy to follow and full of fun facts, the encyclopedia’s amazing 3D images let children embark on their own all-encompassing expedition as the animals, whether favourite creatures or new discoveries, are brought to life before their eyes.

Up close and personal with the big, small, long and tall of the awesome animal kingdom!

(DK Children, hardback, £16.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Best of Harry Potter Colouring: Celebratory Edition by Warner Bros

What a wizard way to enter the wonderful world of Harry Potter!

This exciting and beautifully produced book is the ideal introduction to the Harry Potter Colouring Book series which lets youngsters add a little of their own magic to the films that have brought the famous boy wizard to glorious technicolour life.

This celebratory edition features a selection of artwork from the range of Harry Potter Colouring Books as well as several exclusive, never-before-seen images.

From the orange, brown and green hues used to convey the warmth and whimsy of the Weasley family to the emerald green and silver of Slytherin house, colour was an essential element in creating Harry Potter’s world on the big screen and conjuring up an atmosphere full of enchantment.

Packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Bros archive, the book – best used with colouring pencils rather than paints – gives fans the chance to colour in the vivid settings and much-loved characters of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

The intricate line drawings used in the making of the Harry Potter films feature many of the fan-favourite scenes, creatures, and characters of the series, from Dobby and baby Norbert to Quidditch games and the unforgettable final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort.

The film stills, full colour photographs and concept art included at the back of the book can be used as both a guide and inspiration as youngsters explore the colour of the Harry Potter films.

Fun and fascinating, the Harry Potter Colouring Book will be loved by budding young artists and is an exciting collector’s item for fans of the blockbuster saga.

(Studio Press, paperback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Harry Potter Magical Places and Characters Postcard Colouring Book by Warner Bros

And if you want to share your Harry Potter colouring creations with friends and family, send them one of these picture perfect postcards.

Cast a spell over the resplendent halls of Gringotts and the candy-filled shelves of Honeydukes in these intricate drawings which include some of the best-known characters from the series. With stunning scenes of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, these twenty postcards are perfect for sharing the magic of colour with friends and family.

The thick, sturdy paper used for the postcards is ideal for colouring and each card can either be torn out and sent to friends and family, or kept in the book as a special Harry Potter album.

Heaven sent for Potter fans!

(Studio Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

Press-Out and Colour: Birds

Keep boredom at bay and spirits high in the run-up to Christmas with four exciting and creative activity books from inventive children’s publisher Nosy Crow.

First off the production line is this unique and innovative spiral bound board book which offers youngsters the chance to make stunning press-out birds, all intricately decorated with foil and ideal for all ages to colour.

From a chirpy robin and a proud peacock to a gorgeous goldfinch and a delightful dove, the three-piece, press-out birds can be easily slotted together to create bright and original hanging ornaments. With shimmering foil on every page, these designs can be coloured in or are equally eye-catching with just their highlights of silver.

Simply press out each piece, colour it in and slot together to make ten sparkling ornaments. These beautiful, intricate birds are perfect to hang around the home and add sparkle to any setting, especially at Christmas. The birds are simple to take apart and press back into the book for easy storage, making them super festive decorations that will last for years to come.

Ideal for older children to make on their own, or as a shared project with parents, these gorgeous press-out birds are guaranteed to let imaginations take flight…

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Colouring Book of Beautiful Gift Boxes: Christmas

And how about making your very own festive boxes with this innovative book of beautifully decorated pull-out gift boxes?

Each page of this brilliant book is actually a box… simply colour in the boxes, tear along the dotted lines, fold along the scored lines and you have a gift box perfect for storing all kinds of Christmas treats.

And to complete the Christmas package, the 24 gift boxes come with sparkling gold To and From sticker labels and some festive recipes – including delicious peppermint creams, gingerbread stars and snowball truffles – to put inside the box as special gifts for friends and family.

All the boxes are beautifully decorated with black and white festive designs which can be customised by colouring with pens and pencils. Count down to Christmas by using them as Advent boxes or personalise them for family and friends. Whether you get creative with your colour scheme or use traditional festive colours, this fantastic book will make sure your gifts are truly special.

With full instructions on how to make the boxes and gift ideas on what to put inside, every day will be ‘boxing day’ in the run-up to Christmas this year!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Christmas

Making your own Christmas cards is much more fun than buying them… and here’s everything you need to get started in one big, beautiful book.

Published by Nosy Crow in association with the National Trust, this entertaining and cleverly designed colouring book includes unique cards and envelopes to tear out for Christmas. Use your own crayons to colour in the design then add the colourful stickers provided and personalise your creation.

The 24 unique pen-and-ink festive designs include Christmas trees, gingerbread men, reindeer, stockings, snowmen and snowflakes and are perfect for all ages to decorate and send to family and friends.

Take inspiration from real life or get experimental… try unusual colours and different materials to make each card unique. With enough blank space inside for a festive message, envelopes to customise and the 24 stickers featuring festive symbols to seal your card, this is the complete Christmas package for creative youngsters.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £9.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: A Year of Celebrations

And Christmas isn’t the only time to send cards to your friends and family…

You can have fun all year round with another innovative colouring book of cards and envelopes which celebrates birthdays and occasions from January through to December.

The 24 gorgeous designs in A Year of Celebrations include birthdays, New Year, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, thinking of you, congratulations, get well soon and Christmas.

The cards are perfect for all ages to decorate and send to family and friends. Select a rainbow of colours for the designs or keep the colour palette simple. There is plenty of blank space on the cards for a personal message, the envelopes can be customised and you can use a gallery of cute stickers to seal the envelopes.

The perforated cards and envelopes are easily removed making them accessible for little fingers and the perfect gift for every age group.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £9.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Nutcracker by Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Australian-born illustrator Robert Ingpen, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, brings his own brand of visual magic to this spectacular unabridged edition of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale, The Nutcracker.

Hoffmann’s wonderfully imaginative and quirky story, beautifully translated here by Anthea Bell, is a much-loved part of Christmas celebrations around the world and this stunning new book, given added life and vigour by Ingpen’s brilliant illustrations, captures all the excitement and atmosphere of the original.

Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker ballet, first performed in St Petersburg in December 1892, was based on a French retelling of Hoffmann’s story about a gentle young girl and her love for the enchanted Nutcracker, a Christmas gift from her enigmatic godfather Drosselmeier who leads the toy soldiers in a dramatic battle against the evil Mouse King.

On Christmas Eve, Marie and her family are enjoying the seasonal festivities. Drosselmeier, the clockmaker and inventor, presents them with a nutcracker in the shape of an elegant soldier, which Marie takes to her heart. At the stroke of midnight, the nutcracker comes alive before Marie’s eyes and so begins the most wonderful adventure which whisks Marie away to the magical Kingdom of Toys...

Packed with adventure, humour and with themes of magic, love, betrayal and redemption, Hoffmann’s powerful story is guaranteed to fire young imaginations as Marie and her nutcracker set out on a journey through the mystical land of the Mouse King and Princess Pirlipat, all dramatised by Ingpen’s exquisite illustrations.

Prefect for reading and sharing with children, this sumptuous book is destined to become a Christmas favourite with all the family.

(Templar, hardback, £16.99)

Age 3 plus:

Raven Child and the Snow Witch by Linda Sunderland and Daniel Egneus

Let your little ones lose themselves in the magic and glitter of a hauntingly beautiful fairy tale that will transport them to a stunning winter wonderland.

Debut picture book author Linda Sunderland provides the inspirational words and Swedish illustrator Daniel Egneus brings them to life with a sparkling book cover, distinctive artwork and a gallery of striking, atmospheric pictures.

Anya lives with her mother and father in the shadow of the icy glacier where the Snow Witch reigns. Every spring, Anya’s mother journeys to the glacier to pick the blue gentian flowers that grow there. But this time, she does not return. She has been captured by the Snow Witch and imprisoned in the ice. Anya and her father set off with the ravens to rescue her. It’s a treacherous journey and there is no knowing what they will find. Can the Snow Witch be defeated, will Anya’s mother be saved and will the strength of Anya’s love conquer all?

Sunderland’s lyrical prose is a constant joy in a moving and dramatic story that explores the power of love and innocence to overcome fear, danger and evil in an uncertain world. Add the lush loveliness of the artwork and you have the perfect Christmas treat for all the family…

(Templar, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Little Christmas Tree by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

Watch a colourful day unfurl around a little Christmas tree in a delightful, festive lift-the-flap book from author and illustrator Jessica Courtney-Tickle.

She uses a mixture of hand-painted backgrounds and digital effects to give her work a heavily textured and decorative appeal that sparkles with magic.

One white and snowy night, a little Christmas tree stands alone in the forest. Everything is white and lifeless. As the night goes on, there are small signs of life… an orange fox appears, then a red-breasted robin and a cloud of fireflies. By the end of the book, the little Christmas tree is transformed by nature.

This adorable and gentle rhyming story allows little fingers to make their own exploration of the natural world and a host of colourful creatures by simply turning the pages and lifting the flaps.

A world of fun in a picture book…

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas by Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest

Take a trip back in time and lose your heart to Little Grey Rabbit, the classic picture book playmate whose adventures with his friends, Squirrel, Hare, Moldy Warp and little Fuzzypeg, have been charming children and their parents since 1929.

The popularity of Alison Uttley's magical stories and Margaret Tempest’s lively illustrations meant that generations of children grew up with the lovable woodland gang, and this neat, colourful and eye-catching hardback version is just one of four favourite original titles that are bringing the world of Little Grey Rabbit to a new generation.

Children will love taking off for adventures with the woodland animals as they prepare for the magic of Christmas. And they will have to look hard when Little Grey Rabbit buys a special gift for Hare and Squirrel and loses it in the snow. Will the three animals ever see their lovely present again?

Uttley’s partnership with Tempest lasted for 40 years and their passion for the countryside still shines off the page as a new generation of youngsters get the chance to fall in love with Little Grey Rabbit.

Gentle, nostalgic storytelling just made for bedtime…

(Templar, hardback, £5.99)

Age 2 plus:

One Hundred Sausages by Yuval Zommer

There’s only one food on the menu in a scrumptious new picture book from talented author and illustrator Yuval Zommer… sausages!

In this fun, funny and all-action follow-up to One Hundred Bones, Scruff the Wonder Dog gets on the scent of vile Vinnie, the sausage-stealing hot dog seller.

Scruff just can’t resist sausages! Salami, pepperoni, chorizo… he loves them all. But gate-crashing barbecues and hanging around outside the local butcher’s shop is not making him the most popular dog in town. Then one day, disaster strikes. There’s a break-in at the butcher’s, one hundred top-notch sausages are stolen and Scruff gets the blame. The policeman, the mayor and the butcher can’t trace the real sausage thieves so there’s only one thing for it… Scruff the Wonder Dog will have to sniff them out. But will Scruff’s sniffing talents and bravery win the day?

Zommer’s bright, colourful and playful illustrations bring Scruff and his hilarious escapades to glorious life. With sausages galore, a cast of quirky canine characters, a delightful doggy hero and a meaty drama unfolding on every page, this is a tasty dish for little readers.

(Templar, hardback, £11.99)