Chil­dren’s books

EMILY BEARN on some great Christ­mas presents

The Oldie - - CHILDREN’S BOOKS -

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

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