and let’s hear it for Zadie Smith, who wrote her first children’s book, weird (Puffin, £ 12.99, ages 4-6), with Nick Laird. He’s a charmer. In fact, illustrator Magenta Fox inspired it all. It was when they saw his photo of a guinea pig dressed in a judo costume that they had the idea to write on this birthday gift for a little girl, a creature that other animals laugh at. But Weirdo learns from a nice neighbor that it is foolish to try to fit in. And her name isn’t Weirdo – it’s Maud.
Jason Reynolds is a Carnegie Prize winner best known as a writer for teens and young adults. Stuntman, meanwhile (£ 7.99, Knights Of, 9+) is her first attempt at a graphic book for young readers. It features a superhero whose home is a castle; he also has an alter ego called Portico who lives in an apartment building with his parents, grandmother, and cat called A New Name Every Day. It’s a double act with illustrator Raul the Third and it’s reminiscent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but funnier.
For little children, from the V&A come two charming books of letters and numbers – 123 and ABC (Puffin, £ 6.99, 0-3 years), billed as being by William Morris. In fact, these are not little-known works by the eminent socialist and designer, but Liz Catchpole’s illustrations are inspired by Morris motifs, and they are very appealing.
Oliver Jeffers is a genius of storytelling and drawing. There is a ghost in this house (HarperCollins, £ 20, ages 4-8) is a fiery tale of a little girl’s efforts to try and find a ghost in her massive old house. What she doesn’t see, but what we see, on interleaved paper, are the little ghosts hiding and trying not to laugh. Charming. I like the author’s observation that the group name for ghosts is “scared”.
Frindleswylde (Walker, £ 14.99, ages 5 and up) by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara is clearly inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, and so much the better for that. It’s about a little girl whose grandmother is frozen by the mysterious Winterboy King, Frindleswylde. She follows him to his kingdom underground, where summer hides, to accomplish impossible tasks that will allow her grandmother to come back to life. The illustrations are quite captivating.
Most beloved living illustrator Quentin Blake teamed up with his art school alumnus Emma Chichester Clark for this children’s book about three naughty little monkeys. For once, he’s telling the stories. Three little monkeys at Christmas (HarperCollins, £ 12.99, ages 3 to 5) is charming; the little monkeys pick up on their old stuff, this time in an apartment full of valuables, but they prove their worth when an unexpected visitor calls them.
I’m never quite sure about the gift editions of the classics; they can be intimidating. But this edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by studio MinaLima (HarperCollins, £ 25, ages 9-11), has lots of flyers and pop-ups and a nice pair of green glasses. A delight.
Everyone loves a book about dinosaurs, right? The best of this year can be Dinosaurs and other prehistoric life (DK, £ 20, 12+) by Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, finely presented and richly illustrated. Unusually, the main images are fossil remains (including an ancestor of man), with the reconstruction of the creatures in smaller size. But bones are also scary. This is a scholarship presented in an accessible manner.
For army buffs, Card by card battles (DK, £ 30, 12+) will be a treasure. It is an account in clear and detailed graphics of the unfolding of 100 famous battles, from Thermopylae to the war in Iraq, with descriptions of forms of war. Excellent illustrated.
Barrington Stoke is a formidable imprint that specializes in books for dyslexic readers: relatively short books with clear characters and language. But everyone can benefit from it. Climbers by Keith Gray (Barrington Stoke, £ 7.99, 12+) is a gripping and likable story about the competition between two teenagers with problems at home – a newcomer and the boy who thinks he’s the best climber in the world. village – worked by climbing incredibly difficult tall trees.
Michelle Paver is an extraordinary storyteller, whose Stone Age Wolf Brother stories are based on meticulous scholarship, but none of it relies heavily on this addicting story. In Skin Taker (Zephyr, £ 7.99, 12+) Torak, Renn and Wolf have to deal with the destruction of much of the forest by a Thunderstar – a meteorite? – and its terrible effects on humans as well as on trees. There are demons inside and out here.
The king and the Christmas tree by AN Wilson (£ 9.99, ages 12+), an account of WWII in Norway and the story of the annual gift to England of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree by its locals, n ‘ isn’t actually meant just for kids, but with its cheerful Alexis Bruton illustrations and lucid storytelling, it appeals to all ages.
Eva Ibbotson was a wonderful writer and one of her best adventure stories about an orphan girl’s journey from England to the Amazon, Trip to the seaside (Macmillan Children’s, £ 20, 12+), has been brought to life on her twentieth birthday in this eye-catching edition featuring vivid and colorful images of Kate Hickey. It’s storytelling as it should be.
that of Richard Lambert City of Shadow (Everything with Words, £ 7.99, 12+) is a curiosity, a story about how an unhappy boy, miserable due to his parents’ divorce and forever shot down by his father, emerges into another world where he finds a kingdom oppressed by a tyrant he must help bring down. It’s the intersection between his two worlds that makes him so intriguing.
And finally, the best left until the end… JK Rowling’s The christmas pig (Little, Brown, £ 20, 8-12) is a Christmas cookie. It’s about a little boy’s efforts to cope with his parents’ divorce, Christmas with a stepfamily, and what happens when he tries to get his beloved Hard Pig back from the Land of the Lost. It happens on Christmas Eve because it is the night of “miracles and lost causes”. Thanks JKR.