EMILY BEARN on some great Christmas presents
Grandparents, rejoice! For it has been an unprecedentedly nostalgic year for children’s publishing, with historical fiction and reprinted classics dominating the bestseller lists. The centenary of the Armistice has inspired dozens of new novels set during the two world wars, and The Skylarks’ War (Macmillan, 320pp, £12.99, Oldie price £8.51 inc p&p) by Hilary Mckay is one of the gems. When her glamorous cousin Rupert is dispatched to the Western Front, Clarry’s languid Cornish summers seem vanished forever – but when told in Mckay’s feathery prose, no story is ever quite as bleak as it seems.
Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw (Pushkin, 220pp, £10.99, Oldie price £8.79 inc p&p) is the beautifully told story of a 16-year-old boy living in the Netherlands under Nazi rule, who becomes involved in the resistance movement. Based on the author’s own experiences as a child in Nazioccupied Holland, the book has been out of print in Britain for more than 40 years. This wonderful new translation by Laura Watkinson feels long overdue. By now the original fans of Judith Murphy’s Worst Witch series will be grandparents – but at Miss Cackle’s Academy nothing has changed. First Prize for the Worst Witch (Puffin, 192pp, £9.99, Oldie price £7.83 inc p&p) is the seventh and final book in the series, and our heroine Mildred is still the despair of the school: ‘I am a hopeless case – everything I do always does go wrong in the end.’ But as the title suggests, the time might finally have come for the hapless Mildred to enjoy her happy ending. Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike series is another must for fans of boarding school fiction.
In Death in the Spotlight (Penguin, 416pp, £6.99, Oldie price £5.87 inc p&p) the schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells have just returned to England from their murder investigations in Hong Kong, but barely have the scones been baked and the tea poured, than they stumble into a dead body in a London theatre. The Train to Impossible Places (Usborne, 368pp, £12.99, Oldie price £8.94 inc p&p) is a gloriously imaginative debut novel by the Cardiff library assistant PG Bell. With echoes of Greek mythology and Doctor Who, the story follows the adventures of Suzy, an 11-year-old physics enthusiast, who wakes up to discover a gigantic steam train crashing through her hallway, destined for a magical place.
In picture books, Joy by Corrinne Averiss (Quarto, 32pp, £11.99, Oldie price £7.26 inc p&p) is the uplifting story of a little girl who sets out to help her ailing grandmother rediscover happiness, but learns that it can’t be captured in a box. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without our
national treasure Shirley Hughes, who at 91 is calmly striding into her prime. Snow in the Garden: A First Book of Christmas (Walker, 64pp, £12.99, Oldie price £7.05 inc p&p) is a sumptuous new anthology of stories, poems and recipes – including instructions on how to make non-explosive Christmas crackers. This would be an ideal companion to advent. Emily Brown and Father Christmas (Hodder, 32pp, £12.99, Oldie price £11,54 inc p&p) by Cressida Cowell is another festive treat, telling the story of how Emily Brown and Stanley help the technologically inept Father
‘Snow in the Garden is a sumptuous new anthology of stories, poems and recipes’
Christmas get to grips with his snazzy new sleigh: ‘It has turbo-whatsits and jet-thingummys and I turned that switch there but it went BANG!’ moans the stranded Santa.
It has also been a bumper year for children’s poetry. Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs (Faber, 128pp, £14.99, Oldie price £9.86 inc p&p) is an anthology of dog poems originally conceived by TS Eliot, and intended as a companion to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Some 90 years later, Eliot’s idea has inspired this enchanting collection by Faber’s former poetry editor Christopher Reid. Meanwhile
Poetry for a Change (Otter-barry, 96pp, £6.99, Oldie price £5.42 inc p&p) is a skilfully edited anthology that mixes emerging new poets with immortals such as Shakespeare and Yeats. And for the budding Wordsworth I Am The Seed That
Grew The Tree (Nosy Crow, 336pp, £25, Oldie price £17.13 inc p&p) contains a nature poem for every day of the year. Produced in association with the National Trust, this mammoth of a volume contains poets ranging from Brontë to Updike; and the simple, touching illustrations will engross younger readers too (though at 3kg, they might struggle to lift it).
We feared that the internet would render the reference book extinct – but the market in children’s nonfiction is booming. Maps of the United Kingdom (Wide Eyed, 112pp, £17.99, Oldie price £12.74 inc p&p) contains exactly what its title promises, and the combination of humorous artwork and simple layout will make this one of the most beloved reference books on any child’s shelf. And in a somewhat retro year for children’s publishing, Felicity Brooks’s All About Families (Usborne, 32pp, £9.99, Oldie price £6.68 inc p&p) is a breath of fresh air. Among the fictional children featured are Freddie, who has two dads, and Lily, who lives with her ‘mums’, Sally and Becky. ‘Not all parents are married,’ the book cheerfully explains. ‘Some are partners. They may get married after they have children, or they may not.’ They didn’t tell us that in the Ladybird classics.
Helping Grandmother to find Joy