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Stories, prayers . . . and stickers!

25 November 2016

Parents and children put a selection of this season’s books for the very young through their paces

The nativity


Look Inside Nativity: A lift-the-flap book
Lois Rock
Livia Goloji, illustrator
Lion £7.99 (£7.20)


Jemima Thackray, parent: There is a touch of Edward Ardizzone about the beautiful illustrations by Livia Goloji in Look Inside Nativity by Lois Rock, which — combined with the book’s hardback format — make this a lovely gift for a primary-school-age child.

The language is not always age-appropriate, and, ideally, there would be more than a negligible difference under each “flap”, but the charming drawings are enough compensation.


The Extra Special Special Baby: The story of the Christmas promise
Antonia Woodward
Lion £8.99 (£8.10)


Simon Nicholas, parent: ”That’s going to be an extra special baby in the book,” Olivia said, holding this book. “It’s about Jesus.” The beautifully illustrated front cover had done its job.

Starting with the Magi: “A long time ago, a long way away, some very clever men were doing very clever things. . .”, its beginning surprised her: “Daddy, is that really what it says?”

Its conclusion is perfect: “The extra special child grew. . . into an extra special man. . . who brought the blessings of heaven to the people of earth.”


My Very First Christmas (Candle Bible for Toddlers)
Juliet David
Helen Prole, illustrator
Candle Books £2.99 (£2.70)


My Very First Christmas: Sticker book (Candle Bible for Toddlers)
Juliet David
Helen Prole, illustrator
Candle Books £3.99 (£3.60)


Jemima Thackray, parent: My Very First Christmas, with its colourful cartoons and simple text, provides a good introduction to the nativity for pre-school children. The light-weight, almost pamphlet-style format also makes it useful as a Sunday-school or Messy Church handout. The accompanying sticker book is also an engaging way of reimagining a familiar story and encouraging audience participation, and the large stickers were perfect for fat little fingers.


The Littlest Star
Richard Littledale
Dubravka Kolanovic, illustrator
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)


Simon Nicholas, parent: ”Have you ever wondered how many stars there are in the great big sky? A very clever scientist once worked out that if you counted all the grains of sand on all the beaches in all the countries of the whole wide world, they still wouldn’t be as many as the stars in the sky.

”And, of course, all the stars are the same . . . or are they?”

This tells the story of the littlest star, given the very important job of lighting the stable. An imaginative angle on the nativity, complete with gorgeous painterly pictures.


The Christmas Story
Juliet David
Elina-Ellis, illustrator
Lion £4.99 (£4.50)


Claire Chisholm-Wood, parent: Each page has a large illustration and a few lines of simple text. The characters (including the baby Jesus) are all drawn with large, blobby noses, which Raphy and April thought was “not very Bibley”. The sub-headings sparked Raphy’s interest: “Frightened shepherds. . . An angry king. . . Danger”.


My First Story of Christmas
Tim Dowley
Roger Langton, illustrator
Lion £1.99 (£1.80)


Claire Chisholm-Wood, parent: April (six) recognised all the characters on the front cover: it tells the Christmas story in one picture. It has delightful illustrations, such as a picture of Mary dancing with joy after the annunciation. The story ends with a link between the Wise Men giving Jesus presents, and our giving each other presents. This encouraged April to think about what present she would like to give Jesus, and she said “a prayer tied to a balloon”.


Prayer books


Our Father
Rainer Oberthür
Barbara Nascimbeni, illustrator
SPCK £10.99 (£9.90)


Simon Nicholas, parent: Our Father is written to help children get to grips with the Lord’s Prayer. It starts off answering (really well) questions that Olivia is already asking: “Where is God?” “Why can’t I see God?” “How can I talk to God?” Plus one that we haven’t encountered yet: “What can I say to God when I can’t find the words?” It presents the Lord’s Prayer, then takes each line and tries to unpack its meaning. A bit compli­cated in places, but, overall, helpful.


The Lion Book of Prayers to Keep for Ever
Lois Rock
Sophie Allsopp, illustrator
Lion £5.99 (£5.40)


Claire Chisholm Wood, parent: It is difficult to know what age this small, hardback book is aiming at: perhaps eight-to-ten-year-olds. The language was a bit advanced for April, aged six, but we sat and read some of the (themed) prayers together, and will use it at bedtimes. Raphy, aged eight, enjoyed using the index of first lines to find a prayer, and liked the clear illustra­tions.


Bible stories


Joseph and the Lying Lady
Fiona Veitch Smith
Andy Catling, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)


Joseph and the Rainbow Robe
Fiona Veitch Smith
Andy Catling, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)


Joseph and the Jealous Brothers
Fiona Veitch Smith
Andy Catling, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)


Jemima Thackray, parent: Our family had high expectations of the new series by Fiona Veitch Smith, after the success of the “David” books. These bright and witty books, with stories about the life of Joseph, did not disappoint. The slightly garish illustrations are less easy on the eye, but Veitch Smith’s gift for storytelling never fails to engage my two young sons.

The use of refrain and lists makes the words memorable (we’ll know the text by heart by Christmas), and the writing is both genuinely funny and serious in the right places. Parents will appreciate the thought­ful moral conclusions, as when Joseph learns that his rainbow-coloured robe “reminds us how much God loves everyone in the world, no matter how different”.


Forgotten Bible Stories
Margaret McAllister
Alida Massarie, illustrator
Lion £9.99 (£9)


Sue Keighley, parent: This is a beautifully produced book. Elegant illustrations grace the pages, and the stories do for younger readers what The Red Tent did for older ones. Lesser-known biblical characters are brought to life, and familiar stories are revisited from a different point of view.

Stories from both the Old and the New Testament are included, and the shift in perspective draws the reader into the narrative while call­ing into question assumptions that might previously have been made. How did Abraham feel about send­ing Ishmael away? Who was lying — Mephibosheth or Ziba? Why did Onesimus run away in the first place? And then there were the odd characters whose name I did not recognise, for example, Ebedmelech.

This book is beautiful enough to make it worthy of a place on the bookshelf — but, more importantly, it deserves to be well read.


Bible Stories and Tales: Blue collection
Nick Butterworth
Mick Inkpen, illustrator
Lion £9.99 (£9)


Bible Stories and Tales: Green collection
Nick Butterworth
Mick Inkpen, illustrator
Lion £9.99 (£9)


Claire Chisholm-Wood, parent: These two boxed collections of six small books were a great success. Raphy and April recognised the Inkpen illustrations from the authors’ other books, such as Kipper. Raphy was interested in the Bible reference given at the end of each of the stories, and would immediately look it up in the Bible. He was amused that a mouse says about Jesus that he has a “kind face and snores”. Like Raphy, April was interested in the Bible reference at the back of the books, and wants to bring in the books, and a Bible, to show her class.


Gift books


Sophie’s (Friendly) Spiders
Katy Hounsell-Robert
Onwards & Upwards £6.99 (£6.30)


Sue Keighley, parent: This book appealed to me on two levels: I was born and spent some of my childhood in Zambia; so I was interested to see how the African element was woven into the story; and, second, as an arachnophobe, I was intrigued to see if my stance on the eight-legged creatures could be softened.

For churchgoing children, this is an approachable and entertaining tale with definite page-turning potential. Katy Hounsell-Robert spins a good yarn, and I was genuinely fascinated by the details of a spider’s life, and moved equally by the stories of the lives of the missionary and the orphans. I had a couple of minor niggles: one was the misquoting of Humpty Dumpty (but maybe there are variations that I was not aware of), and I felt that the references to Sophie’s weight (as a human) were slightly clumsy and certainly unnecessary.

These, however, would not stop me from recommending this as both a story to be read by and to primary-school-age children.


Papa Pavnov’s Special Day
Mig Holder
Tony Morris, illustrator
Lion £4.99 (£4.50)


Simon Nicholas, parent: This version of Leo Tolstoy’s own adaption of Ruben Saillens tale features a lonely shoemaker whom God promises to visit on Christmas Eve. While waiting, he gives a hot drink to the roadsweeper, milk and shoes to a homeless woman’s baby, and chats to grannies, children, and beggars.

Finally, he asks: where was Jesus? The story concludes by showing how he met God in each one, wonderfully illustrating Matthew 25.35. Six-year-old Olivia enjoyed this — a great antidote to Christmas consumerism.


Activity books


The Lion Nativity Colouring Book
Antonia Jackson
Felicity French, illustrator
Lion £4.99 (£4.50)


Simon Nicholas, parent: This book is beautiful. It would be a great present for arty six-to-eight-year-olds. It retells the Christmas story in just the right amount of detail to hold interest. But, more than that, it provides hours of colouring fun, thanks to its beautifully intricate illustrations.

The pictures are stylish, but fun. Olivia enjoyed looking to see if the cat featured on every page (not quite!). As they pore over each page, it is a great way to bring the story alive.


Tales from Christmas Wood Activity Book: With puzzles, crafts and stickers
Suzy Senior
James Newman Gray, illustrator
Lion £4.99 (£4.50)


Claire Chisholm-Wood, parent: Raphy and April (eight and six) both thoroughly enjoyed this book — not just the story (with characters such as Tiny Mouse and Fidgety Fox), but the extra activities, too. April couldn’t wait to place the stickers on the correct pages, where the spaces are marked, and Raphy liked the puzzles, especially the “Spot the difference”. Also, we plan to have a go at the recipe for gingerbread men.


Christmas! Fun things to make and do
Christina Goodings
John Williams, photographer
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)


Simon Nicholas, parent: “I love it! This is the best book I have ever had,” Olivia declared on seeing this book. A great maker of cakes, bakes, and art, this title was right up her street. The book offers 50 Christmas items to make: there are ten activ­ities in five different sections (Advent, decorations, nativity, food and stars).

The pages on make-your-own-nativity garnered most interest, and the gingerbread trees decorated with sweets. Now, of course, we have to get busy.


My Christmas Stencil Activity Pack
Tim Dowley
Roger Langton, Helen Prole and Stuart Martin, artists
Candle Books £6.99 (6.30)


Claire Chisholm-Wood, parent: This could while away any time over Christmas when the children have opened all their presents and are getting bored. There are six card stencils of Christmas images, and a set of colouring pencils. The stencils are a bit fiddly to use; so it wouldn’t suit very young fingers. But the nativity story is short and simple. The colouring sheet has a picture by Helen Prole, who illustrated the Candle Bible for Toddlers.

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