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Gifts for the children

24 November 2017

Once again, we road-test books aimed at younger readers

Nurse: Mary Seacole, in Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World

Nurse: Mary Seacole, in Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World

Gift books:

The Lost Words: A spell book
Robert MacFarlane; Jackie Morris, illustrator
Hamish Hamilton £20 (£18)

Malcolm Doney: Robert MacFarlane has always relished words. He loves words for particular things, as he explored in Landmarks. There, he complained that we were losing the ability to name rural plants and animals, and were turning the countryside into a “blandscape”. In The Lost Word — in which MacFarlane teams up with the illustrator Jackie Morris — he tries to redress the balance.

From acorn to wren, MacFarlane writes a series of incantations, in the form of acrostics, providing an almost (but not literal) A to Z of words, such as adder, bramble, heather, kingfisher, otter, and raven. This exquisitely illustrated large-format book would make a sumptuous gift for a bright child.


The Wizard of Once
Cressida Cowell
Hodder Children’s Books £12.99 (£11.70)

Arthur Cooper (age 11): It seemed impossible to impress a generation of picky readers after the magical Harry Potter series. Cressida Cowell succeeded, however, by producing the masterpiece How to Train Your Dragon, introducing a new reimagined world of magic and dragons. I felt sceptical about the sequel The Wizard of Once, but I needn’t have worried. The book is an exceptional page-turner.

The fantastical adventure is set long, long ago in the dark woods and mountains of ancient Britain. Not dragons, but philosophical giants, sprites both good and evil, snow cats, and werewolves roam the land. The original artwork, drawn by Cowell herself, has a unique scruffy style. The references from The Tempest add a whole new level to the story. The ending leaves many unsolved mysteries. I loved the book, and I can’t wait for the film.


Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World: Gift edition
Kate Pankhurst
Bloomsbury £7.99 (£7.20)

Olivia Nicholas (7): This is an interesting book about fantastic women from the past who will inspire you to do something that you like to change the world.

There are 13 outstanding stories, but the story I found really inspiring was Coco Chanel’s, because when I grow up I want to be a fashion designer. Another story was Anne Frank’s. I like this story because she was only a teenager when she wrote her diary.

This great book is by Kate Pankhurst, a relative of Emmeline Pankhurst. She tells her story, too. Its fun illustrations will make you smile.


What We See in the Stars: An illustrated tour of the night sky
Kelsey Oseid
Boxtree £12.99 (£11.70)

Claire Chisholm-Wood: Raphy (9) really liked the colours used throughout this book. He liked the “astral” colours, and was interested in how they presented the constellations. Raphy’s theory was that the stars were done on computer, and then the constellations were drawn by hand afterwards. He thought that some of the names given to the constellations were “a bit of a stretch of the imagination”. He enjoyed finding out about their Egyptian/Greek backgrounds. He was interested in finding out about his own star sign, Gemini. The glossary helped him to understand some unfamiliar words. He thought the ideal age-range for this book would be nine to 13 years.


I Want a Friend
Anne Booth; Amy Proud, illustrator
Lion £6.99 (£6.30)

Ed Thornton: Jem (4) was amused and captivated by the story of Arthur’s ingenious but unsuccessful plans to make a friend (running fast to catch one, setting a trap, using “a great ginormous net”). After several failed attempts, Arthur reaches a low ebb; but along comes Lily, who offers to befriend him and forgives him his foibles (such as shouting too loud). A wonderful story of friendship and unconditional love. “Read it again,” Jem said. “And again.”


Science Geek Sam and his Secret Logbook
Corien Oranje and Cees Dekker
Lion £8.99 (£8.10)

Claire Chisholm-Wood: Sam is a likeable character, and Raphy found that he shared many of the same interests: dinosaurs, constellations, fossils, bugs, Star Wars, and potions. The story starts with a bang (literally), and moves at a lively pace. Raphy has been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid; so he enjoyed the diary style, although he could not work out why it starts on a Tuesday. His favourite part was when Sam emails the Natural History Museum and sends them a photo of a piece of bone that he has found on the beach. It turns out to be a joint from a woolly rhino. Raphy says that if he finds an interesting fossil, he’s going to email the museum straight away. The main theme of the book is whether the Big Bang theory and the Creation story are compatible. It helps to explain how these two seemingly opposed ideas can work together. Raphy thought that it would suit ages eight to 12.


God’s Very Good Idea: A true story about God’s delightfully different family
Trillia Newbell
Catalina Echeverri, illustrator
The Good Book Company £8.99 (£8.10)

Claire Chisholm-Wood: April (7) was impressed by the detail in the pictures, which she thought were “magnificent”. She really liked spotting the main characters of the story on each page. Her favourite page was the double spread, where it shows a child-drawn portrait of the children’s dream of Jesus coming back. They think that God will finish his very good idea, and that Jesus will come back to earth. Jesus has a crown, a superhero cape, and a large letter “J” on his clothes. April thinks that the children are praying to Jesus and asking him to forgive all their sins. They were all looking excited, she thought, “because they have never seen Jesus before”.



Bible stories:

The Action Storybook Bible: An interactive adventure through God’s redemptive story
Catherine Devries; Sergio Cariello, illustrator
David C Cook £12.99 (£11.70)

Dayna and Gracie (10): We love the comic-book style. It makes the Bible so much more interesting. This book will definitely appeal to boys as well as girls. The illustrations are great. It’s more interesting than the school Bibles.

Marian Dutton: The girls really engaged with this book.


Noah and his Ark
Alexa Tewkesbury; Dani Padron, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)


Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Alexa Tewkesbury
Dani Padron, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)


Jonah and the Whale
Alexa Tewkesbury; Dani Padron, illustrator
SPCK £5.99 (£5.40)

Christine Miles: Alexa Tewkesbury is best known as the author of the Topz Secret Diaries and Pens daily devotionals, published by CWR. This autumn, SPCK has released a new series of children’s books by her, retelling the stories of Noah and the Ark; Daniel and the Lion’s Den; and Jonah and the Whale.

Beautifully illustrated, these books have a chatty style. Words in bold and sound-effects help bring them alive, too. Imogen (2) loved all three books. At the back of each book there’s an activity: a “Spot the difference” in Daniel; and a “Can you spot. . .” (with lists mostly of animals and birds), in the other two titles.


Explore the Bible: Book by Book
Peter Martin
Lion £14.99 (£13.50)

Milly-Marie (7): This book brings Bible times to life. You can imagine being back in the past. There is lots of information and the maps helpl to put it all in place

Marian Dutton: Two pages for each book of the Bible: it seems like a very good idea for children to find a way into the Good Book.


The Lion Easy-read Bible
Christina Goodings; Jamie Smith, illustrator
Lion £9.99 (£9)

Claire Chisholm-Wood: There is a large, bold colour illustration on each page, and the Bible stories are told in a child-friendly way. April’s (7) favourite story was the annunciation, because she has been learning about it at school. She thought the contents page was good because it helped her to find and read the stories by herself. She thought that it would suit three- to nine-year-olds.


A Time-Travel Guide to the Land of Jesus
Peter Martin; Dave Smith and Emmanuel Cerisier, illustrators
Lion £9.99 (£9)

Lennon (10): This book has a lot of good facts shown through pictures and maps and diagrams. I especially liked the Tourist Tip, which gave fun facts for the imaginary visitor. This is a great book for information on the lifestyles of the people of those lands.

Marian Dutton: A handy-sized book, based on the concept of being a visitor to the Holy Land in AD 50.


Paul: Man on a mission
Bob Hartman and Conrad Gempf; Dave Smith, illustrator
Lion £7.99 (£7.20)

Morgann (10): If you enjoy Horrible Histories-style books, then you will like this one. It is an ideal book to read to yourself. The illustrations help, too.

Marian Dutton: Aimed at the right age-group, it is, as Morgann says, akin to the Horrible Histories books.


The nativity
Bright Star
Lorie Grover; Jo Parry, illustrator
Zonderkidz £5.99 (£5.40)

Maneeze Chowdhury: A charming book with a squashy-textured cover and appealing, modern-art style. Words are restricted to two per double-page spread, allowing the grown-ups to tell the Christmas story in a way that will appeal directly to their children. Familiar scenes from the nativity are embellished with tropical birds, butterflies, and sweet little mice and rabbits, much to the delight of Mila (3). The book inspired her to conduct spontaneous re-enactments with cuddly toys at bedtime, giving us some early Christmas cheer.


Snuggle Time Christmas Stories
Glenys Nellist; Cee Biscoe, illustrator
Zonderkidz £6.99 (£6.30)

Ed Thornton: This book is beautifully illustrated, and the events surrounding the birth of Christ are told in rhyme, each based on a short Bible verse. For Jem, however, it didn’t usurp The Jesus Storybook Bible.


Really Woolly Christmas Blessings
Bonnie Rickner Jensen; Donna Chapman, illustrator
Tommy Nelson £6.99 (£6.30)

Ed Thornton: This book divides the Christmas story into different “blessings”, and narrates the key events in rhyming metre, with a prayer at the end. Jem preferred reading each one in isolation to cantering through them all in one go. “The Blessing of Giving” particularly resonated (“Dear God, when I give with a happy heart, it makes your heart happy, too!”); although he saw no irony in then wrestling his latest toy away from his younger brother.


Christmas stories:


One Christmas Bear
Anne Vittur Kennedy
Tommy Nelson £5.99 (£5.40)

Maneeze Chowdhury: With its board pages shaped to the outline of the bear on the cover, this book is interesting to little fingers. The illustrations look somewhat dated, but they are cheery and festive. Each double-page spread is dedicated to a number between one and ten, and Mila enjoyed counting the various animals, candy canes, etc. that made up the number. The emphasis of the illustrations is seasonal rather than religious, but all things are remembered as God’s blessings on the final page.


My Christmas Prayer
Amy Parker; Frank Endersby, illustrator
Tommy Nelson £5.99

Maneeze Chowdhury: A short and sweet board book that Mila enjoyed as a new take on bedtime prayers. The illustrations will appeal to young readers who like cute bunnies, kittens, etc., and the pages are bright with an interesting shape. Some of the festivities depicted here will be more familiar to American readers, but children will not know the difference, and the sentiments expressed are universal.

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