Children's books that are festive crackers

Children’s books that are festive crackers: Sally Morris unwraps the most joyous reads for youngsters

  • Sally Morris rounded up a selection of this year’s best books for children
  • Categories include Young Fiction, Picture Books, Poetry and Bite-Size Facts 
  • British literary critic chose The Cousins by Karen McManus for teens 



by Kes Gray Illustrated by Claire Powell (Hodder £6.99)

THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS by Kes Gray Illustrated by Claire Powell (Hodder £6.99)

Father Christmas is exhausted after delivering his presents but there’s one last task before his year is over — organising the Boxing Day party for his elves and helpers. This deliriously happy rhyming lark by the author of the Oi Frog! series will restore flagging energy levels and its outstandingly bouncy illustrations are the perfect antidote to over-indulgence.

THE SNOWFLAKE by Benji Davies (HarperCollins £12.99)


by Benji Davies (HarperCollins £12.99)

As Christmas approaches, a tiny snowflake falls from the sky, buffeted by the winds and anxious about where it might land. At the same time a young girl, yearning to feel special, puts a decorated mini-Christmas tree on her window sill and, when morning comes, the two slightly lost souls make a touching connection. Benji Davies’s beautifully illustrated story is a delight.


by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury £12.99)

This award-winning author/illustrator duo cook up an anarchical rhyming romp that will keep you Yo Ho Ho-ing on every reading. As their parents enjoy a night out, two children are babysat by a pirate, Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook, who brings along his entire crew to brew up a stew of everything pirates hold dear — with surprising consequences. Mad and magnificent.


by Shirley Hughes (Bodley Head £12.99)

DOGGER’S CHRISTMAS by Shirley Hughes (Bodley Head £12.99)

Shirley Hughes’s classic Dogger is here touchingly revisited with all the warmth and charm of the original. Dave may be a bit older than he was in the first book but he still sleeps with Dogger held tightly every night. Christmas Day brings the excitement of new toys and visits to other people so when Dogger disappears, will anyone know where to look for him? A nostalgic comfort blanket for us all.

I’M STICKING WITH YOU by Smriti Halls Illustrated by Steve Small (S&S £6.99)


by Smriti Halls Illustrated by Steve Small (S&S £6.99)

Making friends can be easy, but maintaining that friendship when tested is much harder. This witty and delightfully illustrated story of a devoted large bear and his increasingly suffocated squirrel companion shows that, despite the odd glitch, remembering what you love can outweigh what causes annoyance. A lesson no one is ever too old to learn . . . superb.


by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins £14.99)

A father assembles a toolkit, both physical and emotional, to show his daughter all the things they can build together for the future, things that will bring both security and challenges. Hugely imaginative, bold illustrations spell out the message that uncertainty is always with us but teamwork, love and family can bring hope and comfort — a message so relevant for today.


by David Litchfield (Frances Lincoln £11.99)

David Litchfield says farewell to Bear in this final instalment of his sublime trilogy about a gifted pianist and his adventures. As Bear ages and his audiences dwindle, he retires reluctantly back to the forest where his curious young daughter discovers his neglected piano and orchestrates a final hurrah for her much-loved and admired father. Gorgeous.


by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots £12.99)

A timely message about over-consumption and recycling underpins this engaging rhyming story of a pair of magpies who build a nest for their eggs but decide that they need an improbable and ultimately preposterous amount of stuff to fill it with. Gravett’s slyly funny illustrations burst with detail and even the end papers are in on the joke. Pass it on!


WHERE SNOW ANGELS GO by Maggie O’Farrell Illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Walker £14.99)


by Maggie O’Farrell Illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Walker £14.99)

Award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell’s first children’s book carries a subtle message about young people’s fears. When the snow angel she made the previous winter appears in Sylvie’s bedroom one night, it is to warn her of a serious illness. As she slowly recovers she’s desperate to meet him again and to keep everyone she loves safe. The dream-like quality of the breathtaking illustrations enhances this emotive and powerful story. Age 5+


by Amy Timberlake Illustrated by Jon Klassen (Scholastic £12.99)

There’s something so eccentric and bizarre about this utterly charming story that it will appeal across a wide age range.

Reclusive Badger lives a life of strict routine with his dry old rock samples in his aunt’s empty house until Skunk arrives as his new housemate, complete with cooking skills, chatter and a flock of chickens. A lesson about embracing friendship and stepping out of your comfort zone, with Klassen’s characteristically quirky illustrations. 7+


by Eloise Williams (Firefly £6.99)

Full of Welsh mythical atmosphere, this tense story introduces us to Wilde, a young girl who has lived with her peculiar aunt since her mother died. When she’s roped into a school play that involves the legend of a local witch, strange events unfold and other children are cursed. Why, and what is the secret of Wilde’s mysterious mother? 8+

TAMARIND AND THE STAR OF ISHTA by Jasbinder Bilan (Chicken House £6.99)


by Jasbinder Bilan (Chicken House £6.99)

Tamarind was born in India but now lives in Bristol with her widowed father. When he remarries, she is allowed to visit her mother’s family in the Indian Himalayan foothills where the discovery of an emerald ring and a secret night-time visitor slowly reveal the truth of what happened to her mum. Richly drawn and spiritually haunting, this is another triumph from the Costa award-winning Bilan. 9+


by Natasha Farrant (Faber £7.99)

It’s 1919 and Sam is missing in France where he was recovering in an Army hospital.

His adoptive father was killed visiting him and now his brother, Ben, 12, is left alone on the family narrowboat.

When fiery Lotti turns up, determined to find her grandmother across the channel, the two undertake an emotional and perilous sea journey to reconnect with people they love. Dramatic, moving and perfectly paced. 9+


by David Almond Illustrated by Marta Altes (Walker £10.99)

David Almond tackles deep philosophical themes with an invisibly light touch in this funny story about George, a new boy at school, befriended by Daniel and Maxie.

George barely eats, is brilliant at maths and football but there’s something weird about him . . . what, asks Almond, makes us human and makes life worth living — and can Daniel bring George a taste of what he’ll never experience otherwise? 9+


by Hana Tooke (Puffin £12.99)

One of the stand-out debuts of 2020, this gripping tale of five ‘unadoptable’ orphans in 19th century Amsterdam has it all: a cruel, scheming orphanage owner, a wicked trader, a richly evoked setting and engaging central characters whose plight really does have you rooting for them — and, surely, for more stories in this series. Terrific stuff. 9+


by Ross Mackenzie (Andersen Press £7.99)

If you want a chilling, thrilling, dark and dangerous adventure with a witch-child battling the forces of evil as personified by the truly menacing figure of Shadow Jack, then look no further.

This gloriously imagined world drips with atmosphere, violence and threat and the central characters are rich enough to haunt you long after the last page. 11+

LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG DREAMS by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Amy Blackwell (Frances Lincoln £9.99)



by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Amy Blackwell (Frances Lincoln £9.99)

This wide-ranging series of potted biographies offers an introduction to the men and women whose lives have changed or influenced history or who have been trailblazers in their field, whether that’s sport, the arts, science or politics. Recent titles cover Alan Turing’s groundbreaking computer skills and Greta Thunberg’s global campaign against climate change, as well as The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.


by Adam Kay Illustrated by Henry Paker (Puffin £14.99)

After his bestselling adult books, doctor and comedian Adam Kay has written an entertaining and highly informative guide to the human body aimed squarely at kids.

Organs, germs, bodily functions (yes, lots of farting and burping) are all described in bite-size chunks with fun, cartoonish illustrations.

The tone may be light but it’s absolutely packed with facts and is reassuring about hormonal and physical development.



by Karen McManus (Penguin £7.99)

The Story family have run a rich people’s island resort off Massachusetts for generations until widowed Mildred disinherited her four children with no explanation. Now she has invited her grandchildren to the island for the summer — but why? A twisty, enthralling thriller with multiple narrators and time shifts that will keep you guessing to the end.


THE GREAT GODDEN by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury £12.99)

by Patrick Ness (Walker £12.99)

Award-winner Ness excels himself in this powerful allegory about a rare, fire-breathing dragon whose arrival on a mid-western U.S. farm in the Cold War 1950s incites an FBI chase, a time-slip family drama, a love story and an exposé of the racist, homophobic and sexist attitudes of the time. Incendiary stuff.


by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury £12.99)

Teenagers pining for the steamy summer holiday romance they couldn’t have this year will thrill to this powerful and painful evocation of first love. Four siblings spend the summer in their family beach house until the arrival of two very different American brothers causes rivalry and suspicion. Full of lies, lust, manipulation and the agony of being young.


by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press £12.99)

It’s Christmas 1919 and 19-year-old Margot is returning to the family home from her job in a school. Her fiance, Harry, who had been missing in action, is also home but she has kept hidden from him the fact that she had his child, now being raised by her parents. Should she tell him?

This poignant novel confronts truths, secrets, changing social mores and the awful choices made during wartime.



selected by Fiona Waters Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup (Nosy Crow £25)

This comprehensive selection of animal poems for every day of the year comes from all corners of the world and blends modern with traditional, witty with profound. From icy polar bears in January, through spring tadpoles and frogs, summer bees and kingfishers to autumnal swallows, the illustrations are splendid and this will be treasured for years.


by Robert Macfarlane Illustrated by Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton £14.99)

THE LOST SPELLS by Robert Macfarlane Illustrated by Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton £14.99)

After the runaway success of The Lost Words, this talented couple return with a smaller format but equally remarkable book that is a beautiful as it is inspiring. From red foxes to barn owls, the acrostic ‘spells’ evoke a natural landscape that we neglect or ignore at our peril.

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