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Children's book selection: Myths, animals, prayers, Jesus

Well-produced and charmingly illustrated books offer plenty of choice for filling the children’s Christmas stockings this year


Growing Strong: A book about taking care of yourself
Christina Goodings
Masumi Furukawa, illustrator
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)

Allison Blyghton, parent: This book is not Christian or Christmassy — but it’s proved a great hit in our house. It introduces children to ideas including the importance of a balanced diet, hygiene, dental care, exercise, and first aid.

Laura Blyghton, aged five: The book showed me that it’s important to brush my teeth in the morning and at night.


Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Adrian Mitchell
Alan Lee, illustrator
Frances Lincoln £14.99 (£13.50)

Thomas Brooke, aged ten: This was great. The story was well told because it was quite detailed — not vague, but not too much extra stuff, either. It is written in a fairly grown-up way, and doesn’t feel like a children’s story. For example, it’s not like the Percy Jackson books about a half-boy, half-Greek-god, which are definitely for kids of my age and above. So this one tells it straight, and is even quite poetic at times.

There were a few words I didn’t understand, places I hadn’t heard of (like Samos), and things I didn’t know about (like the Wagoner constellation). But these didn’t stop me from understanding the story. I think it would suit children of about 11 and above — not very young ones.

The pictures [above, for example] are really cool. I loved the Labyrinth. In another one, you can tell what Icarus is thinking just from his face: it’s so well drawn. The sea is beautiful, too.

Rachel Boulding, parent: This is a retelling of parts of the Metamorphoses by Adrian Mitchell, the poet and dramatist who died last year. Alan Lee’s illustrations are subtly appealing: slightly old-fashioned and painterly, with a muted greeny-blue palette. The narrative focuses on the stories themselves rather than sticking too closely to Ovid’s texts.

It’s certainly not a translation or a basic summary, but more of a concise retelling, with some neat touches of characterisation. It would be a useful and easy introduction to Greek and Roman myths, covering as it does tales such as Venus and Adonis, Atalanta, Pygmalion, Orpheus, Midas, and Phaethon.


The Biggest Thing in the World
Kenneth Steven
Melanie Mitchell, illustrator
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)

Allison Blyghton, parent: Little Snow Bear [pictured right] wants to know what the biggest thing in the world is. Is it the musk ox, the herd of elk, the river, the mountain, the whale, the iceberg, the sea — or even the sky? None of them is bigger than his mother’s love. It isn’t a Christian theme, but the story is charming, and the illustrations are beautiful. Both Laura (aged five) and Juliette (aged three) loved it.

Laura, aged five: I loved the pictures in this book.


God Loves Me
Daphna Flegal
Nancy Munger, illustrator
Abingdon Press £3.99 (£3.60)

Lisa McKeown, parent: God Loves Me teaches children from an early age the importance of God’s love and how he loves every aspect of us, right down to our sneezes. This simple, well-illustrated, and interactive book is just what Louie, aged 18 months, and other small children enjoy. Its compactness allowed Louie to hold and turn the book himself; he especially enjoyed copying the actions from the illustrations.


Creation (a touch-and-feel book)
Caroline Jayne Church
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Lisa McKeown, parent: This is a perfect introduction to the story of the creation. The touch-and-feel characters and illustrations kept Louie, aged 18 months, captivated throughout. The shiny sun, the Lion’s furry mane and the peekaboo tree retells the story of creation in a way toddlers can understand and enjoy. I was pleased to see that the author, Caroline Jayne Church, has a series of touch-and-feel books that go through other stories from the Bible.


Food Chain
M. P. Roberston
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books £11.99 (£10.80)

Sarah Doyle, parent: Clara Belle laughed like a drain at this quirky book. It’s a strange tale of a little boy who flushed his goldfish down the lavatory . . . which sparks a chain of curious consequences. Vibrant and bold, there is sufficient detail in each illustration to generate lots of related chat.

Clara Belle, aged four: This book is very funny. I made my big sister read it to me again and again. I like the naughty boy.


Tell Me a Dragon
Jackie Morris
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books £11.99 (£10.80)

Sarah Doyle, parent: This is a magical tale of dragons, set in a fairytale world. I am not keen on the style of illustration — it puts me in mind of that dreadful ’70s Athena poster of wild horses running through a fantastic land — but Clara Belle was enraptured. I loved the prose, however — rich, and gorgeously poetic. . .“My dragon is a sky dragon. Together we ride the secret music of the wind . . .”

Clara Belle, aged four: I liked this book, and I liked making up my own dragon at the end.


The Lion Book of Day-by-Day Prayers
Mary Joslin
Amanda Hall, illustrator
Lion £9.99 (£9)

Claire Drew, parent: This is a book of prayers for children in their daily lives. It has a prayer for every occasion in a child’s life, including morning prayers, evening prayers, prayers for themselves and their family, and the world. They are thought-provoking, inspiring, and comforting, and some are reassuring. Some of the prayers are traditional, but there are also new prayers from around the world.

Contemporary illustrations by Amanda Hall make this book a visual treat. Stanley read the book and enjoyed it immensely. It will make a lovely Christmas gift, allowing children to explore their emotions and Christian values, such as love, hope, and faith.

Stanley, aged seven: I can read the morning prayers when I wake up, and the sad ones when I’m upset, and when I don’t really know what to say — which happens sometimes — I can use this to help me. I really like the pictures in this book, too.


Retelling the nativity
My Very First Nativity Story
Lois Rock
Alex Ayliffe, illustrator
Lion £3.99 (£3.60)


Faith Buck, parent: This book has a bright and modern feel, with crisp, colourful paper-collage illustrations throughout. The compact size is appealing for smaller readers, although Tynan, aged three, found the story a bit long and meandering. Although he has the concentration span for lengthier tales, this would have benefited from some rhyme or rhythm to keep him engaged.

That said, for children who can read by themselves, the language is clear and the story succinct. What we enjoyed most was singing the three verses of “Away in a manger” printed at the end.


What Can You See? On Christmas Night
Victoria Tebbs
Russell Julian, illustrator
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Faith Buck, parent: This charmingly illustrated book has a peephole in every other double-page spread which leads you from scene to scene. The characters punctuate the tale through­out with animal noises or exclama­tions, which Tynan, aged three, enjoyed rather more than the nativity story itself. Before each peephole we are asked: “What did they see?” which, after the first couple of times, feels a bit prescriptive. The windows would encourage exploration anyway. It is an attractive picture-book, particularly suitable for a gentle bedtime read.


Lift-the-flap Christmas Stories
Christina Goodings
Annabel Hudson, illustrator
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Faith Buck, parent: Each short paragraph is given a sub-heading, which makes it very easy for children of pre-school age to follow the story. At least two flaps on each cartoon-spread reveal a large cast of people and animals. My son Tynan, aged three, was more taken with naming objects and creatures (“Look! It’s a baby!”) than with the Christmas tale.

At the end, there is a list of animals to go back and search for on each page, which seems to acknowledge that these are the nativity characters most likely to appeal to a toddler.



Christmas Stories for Little Angels
Sarah J. Dodd
Dubravka Kolanovic, illustrator
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)

Allison Blyghton, parent: Laura wanted to read this book in one go — she was so enthralled by the stories of the different characters in the nativity story. The book explores the feelings of Mary, Joseph, Simon the shepherd boy, and Jasper, the camel-keeper for the Wise Men. It does make the story more real and up to date. But I found the babyish illustrations disappointing.

Laura Blyghton, aged five: I liked learning more about the people in the Christmas story. I really liked Simon, the shepherd who saw baby Jesus.

The Good Green Christmas
Christina Goodings
John Williams, photographer
Adrian Barclay, illustrator
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)

Allison Blyghton, parent: This book encourages us to use natural and recyclable materials to make cards, gifts, wrapping paper, and decorations. Ideas include paper baubles, stars from twigs, and gift tags, as well as recipes for shortbread and marzipan sweets.

Laura, aged five: Mum and I made the cakes — they were yummy.

Silent Night
Vicki Howie
Krisztina Kallai Nagy, illustrator
Barnabas £7.99 (£7.20)

Sarah Doyle, parent: This is an utterly charming story that explains how the carol “Silent Night” came to be writ­ten. It ticks all the boxes for a young child: a good yarn involving cute an­imals, delightful illustrations, and just about the right length to hold the attention. Highly recommended.

Clara Belle, aged four: My sister read Silent Night to me. The story was very interesting. I liked the pictures because they are so sweet and colourful.

The Creation Sticker Collection
Su Box
Alison Atkins, illustrator
Barnabas £3.99 (£3.60)

The Christmas Sticker Collection
Su Box
Alison Atkins, illustrator
Barnabas £3.99 (£3.60)

Sarah Doyle, parent: I love these books, which offer a straightforward retelling of the story of creation and the nativity, accompanied by about 60 colourful stickers apiece. There are designated spaces for individual stickers to be placed, but Clara Belle, aged four, ignored this and spent a happy hour or so sticking them anywhere she fancied. Some of the smaller stickers are a little tricky for small hands to peel, but, that aside, the books are well worth £3.99. I look forward to more versions.

Clara Belle, aged four: My sister Hope read me the stories, and then I stuck the stickers in the pages. I had fun, and would like some more to do.


The Barnabas Classic Children’s Bible
Rhona Davis
Maria Cristina Lo Cascio, illustrator
Barnabas £11.99 (£10.80)

Sarah Doyle, parent: An extremely accessible version of the Bible, which is great value for money at £11.99. My only quibble is that the illustrations seem a tad joyless: I couldn’t find a single person who was smiling in the entire 140 pages.

Hope, aged 10: I have been reading The Barnabas Classic Children’s Bible. I would love to receive this as a Christmas present. I think it’s for an age group of about eight to 11, and it is suitable for both boys and girls. The traditional Bible is difficult to understand in parts, but Rhona Davies has made this version very easy to follow. I think this is the best edition of the Bible I have seen.


Children’s Bible Stories
Peter Malone, illustrator
The Folio Society £32.95 (Copies obtainable from The Folio Society 020 7400 4200;

Claire Drew, parent: Wow, what a book! Beautifully presented, bound in buckram, and encased. This is a wonderful gift, with enchant­ing Bible stories from both the Old and New Testament. Stanley, aged seven, absolutely loved this book, with the stories of Daniel in the lions’ den, David and Goliath, and many more. The children’s illustrator Peter Malone is responsible for the amazing images [Adam and Eve, right], and, although not every story is illustrated, the quality makes up for the quantity. I can’t praise this book enough.

Stanley, aged seven: “I love this book. I want my mum to read me a different story every night until it’s finished. I have another children’s Bible, but this one is much better, because it’s a bit more grown-up. The pictures are really good, but I wish there was more.


Bible Birds and Beasties
Leena Lane
T. S. Spookytooth, illustrator
Barnabas £6.99 (£6.30)

Sally Fraser, parent: This is a colourful hardback book that features the animals that appear in the best-loved Bible stories, including God’s creation, Noah’s ark, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Jesus’s stories about sparrows and birds. It is ideally suited to children aged six to eight, and will bring pleasure to children, whether it is read to them or they read it for themselves. It makes an ideal gift for parents, grandparents, and godparents.

Felix, aged six: My best story was about the beasties in Egypt. God sent thousands of frogs into Egypt, and people found them all over the floor and in their beds. God also sent gnats and flies to bite the people of Egypt. After the frogs and the flies, God sent the locusts, who ate all the food.


The Christmas Bible Storybook: A Bible Friends Bible story
Maggie Barfield
Mark Carpenter, design
Scripture Union, £3.99 (£3.60)

Sally Fraser, aunt to Rufus, aged three: This book offers a simple retelling of the nativity story for the under-fives. The photographic spreads, featuring the popular soft-toy characters, the Bible Friends, make a welcome change from traditional illustrations. The small board-book format is ideal for little hands. A single sentence of text on each page manages to keep the story simple and immediate. This book is a perfect stocking-filler for the very young.

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