Christmas themed books for children
From the moral to the humorous, there’s plenty of seasonal books to choose from
December always yields a stockingful of seasonal books for children, but Ben, the wily hero of The Accidental Father Christmas (Oxford University Press, £6.99, 9+), would be lucky to get a bag of coal from Old Saint Nick after his shenanigans on Christmas Eve. Haranguing Santa’s many stand-ins, setting traps to prove he doesn’t exist, Ben may just about ruin Christmas for everyone. Written and illustrated by Tom McLaughlin, Ben’s comic escapade through the streets and night sky of contemporary London is enlivened by encounters with a variety of real and fantastical creatures. For all the hilarity, however, the book has an emotional heart. Ben is merely mourning the absence of his father, who is too busy working to spend Christmas Day with him. The moral is clear: a father is better than the best Christmas present any day.
Poor Theodore in Katherine Rundell’s modern fairytale One Christmas Wish (Bloomsbury, £14.99, 5+) is also suffering from parental neglect. Left alone on Christmas Eve when his parents head out to work, Theo is charged with decorating the Christmas tree. When he wishes on a Christmas star to be “un-alone”, four dusty old decorations answer him, and together they set off across the city on a quest that will, inadvertently, bring his mum and dad home. Despite the contemporary setting, Rundell’s magical story has a timeless quality, and Emily Sutton’s densely detailed illustrations are a joy. The final double-page spread presents a Christmas morning to compete with, while the gilded pine fronds that adorn the book jacket give it the luxurious quality of a book that will be treasured forever.
Hetty Feather’s Christmas by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin, £12.99, 9+) also uses the December festivities as an opportunity to explore family relationships. In this Victorian Christmas tale featuring “humble foundling girl” Hetty Feather, Wilson revives one of her most popular heroines. Set on Christmas Day in 1888, the book opens with an unexpected surprise: a present, for Hetty, tucked under her pillow. Hetty is thrilled - it’s a gift from her estranged mother - but the orphans that she shares her days with are not as pleased, and jealousy soon spreads throughout the dormitory. Wilson is, as ever, brilliant at evoking the emerging social hierarchies at the Foundling Hospital, while the much feared presence of the malignant Matron Bottomly embodies the potential corruption of adult authority. There are a smattering of illustrations from Wilson’s regular collaborator, Nick Sharratt, and a selection of Christmassy activities at the back of the book to keep young readers busy after the last page of the story has been turned.
There is also an orphan in The Snow Dragon, one of 11 stories in Winter Magic (Simon&Schuster, £6.99, 9+), united by wintry themes. Curated by Abi Elphinstone, the collection includes contributions from some of the greatest talents in contemporary children’s literature, including Emma Carroll, Geraldine McCaughren and Michelle Magorian. Elphinstone’s own story is one of the collection’s finest. It is set in Griselda Bone’s Home for Strays, where Phoebe, the last orphan left at the home, is waiting for a family to adopt her. On Christmas Eve she sneaks out into the snow-laden streets of Whistlethrop, only to find herself befriended by a dragon, who materialises from the scattered remains of a snowman. Together they set off on a magical journey through the skies, but when they return to the orphanage there is an even greater miracle awaiting. Elphinstone’s thoughtful fantasy harnesses familiar childhood tropes and remakes them in a magical way.
The Snowbear by Sean Taylor (Words and Pictures, £11.99, 3+) is a similarly frosty fantasy for younger readers, in which a brother and sister sculpt a snowbear who comes to life. Their mother may warn them of the slippery snow, but there are greater dangers in the winter landscape: a wolf with eyes as “cold as icicles.” Luckily, their snowy sculpture is a friendly sort, who swoops in to save them and carry them home. He is an ephemeral friend, however, and when they look to find him the following morning he is gone. Taylor’s story easily swats away common childhood fears, and Clare Alexander’s soft, chalky illustrations evoke the tactile nature of the wintry landscape. It is a lovely, gentle book that is reminiscent of Raymond Briggs infamous Christmas tale, The Snowman.
In Hiawyn Oram’s wacky Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing (Walker, £11.99, 3+), the eponymous hero is an imaginative young boy who falls in with the pernicious Greenbackboy, a fellow adventurer who is completely obsessed with KA-CHING. They start off on a shared quest through the forest, looking for the elusive treasure, but Snowboy soon realises that the sacrifices Greenbackboy is prepared to make are too dear. Oram’s fable speaks brilliantly to the imaginative role play favoured by young readers, while Birgitta Sif’s hazy water-coloured pictures add a dreamlike quality to the anti-capitalist, eco-conscious tale.
There is no snow in Tony Ross’ latest instalment in the Little Princess series, I Want Snow (Andersen Press, £11.99, 2+), much to the disgust of the tantrum-throwing princess. The palace staff do their best to cater to her demands, but there is a big problem: it’s summer. They get her kitted out in snow-gear, but she’s too hot. They build her a snowman out of stones, but it’s too rocky. They start a snowball fight with mud, but it’s too dirty for the exacting diva, so she goes to bed to sulk “for ever. . . Or at least until it snows.” Finally, it does, but the princess discovers snow is more attractive on paper. I Want Snow is a perfect comedy to offset the frenzies of any tantrum-prone toddler who expects snow to appear with their presents underneath the Christmas tree.