Book reviews: A magical Christmas with the wizards at Macmillan

A magical Christmas with the wizards at Macmillan

A magical Christmas with the wizards at Macmillan

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The book boffins at Macmillan have been working overtime this year to conjure an extra special collection of Christmas reads for children of every age.

Meet a rogue sprout on the rampage, sing along with the Gruffalo and his pals, get colouring with the Moomins, make mischief with Princess Mirror-Belle, enjoy giggles with the madcap Moone Boy and head for the jungle with Bear Grylls.

Age 3 plus:

Sproutzilla vs. Christmas by Tom Jamieson and Mike Byrne

A paarping good Christmas is guaranteed when youngsters get stuck into this hilarious picture book… and a plateful of sprouts!

Santa has a problem, you see… he’s called Sproutzilla. He’s big, mean and green, and he is out to ruin Christmas.

Little Jack hates sprouts; in fact, he’d rather chew on a tyre whilst tickling a tub full of tarantulas than eat any of the nasty green veg. But when his parents bring home the largest sprout he has ever seen, things start to get dangerously out of control. Unstoppable Sproutzilla is the meanest, greenest Christmas ruining vegetable ever and he’s heading straight towards Santa. It’s up to Jack to save Christmas and there’s only one way to do it… he’ll just have to eat the sprouts and provide the wind beneath Santa’s wings!

With Tom Jamieson’s comical story providing the giggles and Mike Byrne’s illustrations turning Sproutzilla into a raucous, rampaging sprout, there’s just an outside chance that this wonderful book might convince even the most reluctant eaters to gobble down their greens this Christmas!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

My Big London Play Set Illustrated by Marion Billet

Keep your little ones busy this Christmas with a very special trip to London.

Open up this magical box of city tricks and let youngsters explore the landmarks of the capital from the comfort of their playroom floor.

This exciting box set contains a giant, fold-out play mat of London with over 40 play pieces and a book crammed full of activities and colourful stickers which will inspire young imaginations to take flight over the streets and sights of London.

The sturdy stand-up play pieces feature vehicles, characters and famous landmarks with fun facts on the back. Push the bus through the streets and get lost in the BIG adventure of London.

The sticker book has 24 pages of exciting activities, six pages of colourful stickers and four sheets of press-out play pieces. See if you can find where to place the famous landmarks by matching them to the colours and shapes on your play mat, put the people and vehicles wherever you want to go and learn all about London as you travel round the streets. And when you have finished playing, store all your play pieces in a handy envelope in the box lid.

Illustrated by the talented Marion Billet, this is the ideal gift for all little tourists!

(Macmillan, box set, £19.99)

Age 3 plus:

A Treasury of Songs by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Sing along with the Gruffalo and his friends this Christmas with this innovative and entertaining book and CD package.

As well as being the UK’s most successful picture book author, Julia Donaldson is a gifted songwriter for children and A Treasury of Songs contains over twenty of her songs, including fun-filled action rhymes, Aesop’s fables, and songs based on Julia Donaldson’s best-loved picture books, from Room on the Broom to The Gruffalo.

The songbook treasury, beautifully produced and with a ribbon marker, is illustrated throughout with Axel Scheffler’s warm and wonderful artwork, and comes with a CD of all the songs performed by Julia herself.

Many of the songs, including A Squash and a Squeeze and The Gruffalo Song, will be familiar to anyone who has heard them on TV or radio or enjoyed one of Donaldson’s live performances. With a shiny foiled jacket, luxury extra-thick paper and a foreword by the author, this is the perfect gift for anyone who loves reading, listening… and singing!

(Macmillan, hardback, £14.99)

Age 2 plus:

Little Monkey by Marta Altés

Cosy up with a lively, lovable monkey who is out to prove that the smaller you are, the bigger your adventures can be!

It’s hard being a little monkey in a big troop, in an even bigger jungle… and this little monkey has had enough of always missing out on the fun. So she’s off to climb to the top of the tallest tree in the jungle and she is determined she is going to do it all on her own. The only problem is that there is someone following close behind… someone with claws and stripes, and rather sharp teeth! Will little monkey triumph against the odds?

Award-winning author and illustrator Marta Altés delivers some clever, comical monkey business in this delightful picture story which speaks loudly to little ones about chasing your dreams in a big, wild and wonderful world where anything is possible.

A gentle, funny and empowering story with a big, bold heart and an inspirational spirit of adventure...

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Pocket Moomin Colouring Book by Tove Jansson

It’s over 70 years since the first book featuring The Moomins was published but Tove Jansson’s globally treasured stories continue to delight generations of children.

The Moomins are a lovable family of roundish fairy tale characters with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotami and were created by Jansson, a celebrated Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator artist, political cartoonist and author who died in 2001.

In a publishing partnership between Macmillan Children’s Books and the Moomin brand, her much-loved illustrations are being showcased in colouring books for the first time.

And this new, perfectly pocket-sized format features original artwork from the coveted archive of Jansson. The smaller edition, perfect for colouring while travelling and on the move, features striking patterns and scenes as well as favourite Moomin characters and their most memorable quotes.

Beautifully conceived and designed, the book is published on high quality colouring paper and is the perfect Christmas gift for Moomin fans of all ages.

(Macmillan, paperback, £5)

Age 5 plus:

Draw it! Colour it! Beasts

Take over 50 of the world’s best-loved artists and illustrators, ask them to devise a simple but ingenious drawing book for all the family to enjoy… and you get the amazing Draw it! Colour it! series.

The eagerly anticipated follow-up to Draw it! Colour it! Creatures, this second, spectacular Macmillan activity book is a chance to join in and complete a drawing inspired by a bestselling artist.

And who could resist the chance to draw and colour a gallery of weird and wonderful beasts with the help of award-winning artists and children’s books illustrators like Axel Scheffler, Emily Gravett, Chris Riddell, Lydia Monks, Marta Altés, Tim Hopgood and Rob Biddulph?

Each page of this brilliant bumper drawing and colouring book is packed with creatures both real and imaginary… cats, dogs, monsters, dragons and some very strange aliens! Jump from scary to silly to simply stunning with every page you turn, then sharpen your pencils and join in to complete the pictures.

Colour in the pictures, draw your own monstrous beasts, copy the illustrations, use your own imagination to complete pictures and draw the next victim of Maude the giant cow with laser eyes!

This is the ideal book for aspiring artists and fans of children’s illustration who want to have a go themselves. With over 100 fun-filled pages, there is plenty of room for parents to get stuck in too and there won’t be a dull moment on rainy days and holidays.

An exciting and inspirational book for children who love to draw, made by people who love to draw.

(Macmillan, paperback, £10)

Age 6 plus:

Christmas with Princess Mirror-Belle by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Mirror, mirror on the wall… where is naughty Princess Mirror-Belle?

There’s double trouble and double the fun as the outrageous Princess Mirror-Belle returns for two hilarious Christmas escapades with her long-suffering doppelgänger Ellen.

Mirror-Belle, the princess with a difference, is the hilarious looking-glass creation of top author and illustrator team Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, and her madcap adventures are ideal for youngsters who are beginning to read on their own.

Mirror-Belle pops out of the unsuspecting Ellen’s mirror to sweep her into a variety of comic escapades. And there’s one thing you can be sure of… wherever Mirror-Belle goes, trouble will follow!

In this super, glittery festive hardback edition, Mirror-Belle causes mayhem when she joins Ellen at the Christmas ballet show, attends Ellen’s friend’s fancy dress party and tries to catch Father Christmas.

The perfect Christmas book for your own little princess…

(Macmillan, hardback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

Mabel Lucie Attwell’s Peter Pan and Wendy

The dream team combination of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan and the beautiful drawings of much-loved illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell returns to print in this stunning all-colour gift edition.

Attwell’s trademark gentle illustrations for Peter Pan and Wendy, first published in 1921, were requested by J.M. Barrie himself to accompany an abridged text that had been retold for younger readers by May Byron.

The warm, distinctive illustrations, which hold a unique appeal to both children and adults, have been the nursery staple of generations of children and this stunning new hardback edition features the original full colour plates and line artwork.

Barrie’s Peter Pan is a thrilling adventure for all ages. The story of the boy who refuses to grow up is a tale that never gets old as it follows the Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, who befriend the magical Peter and are whisked away to Neverland, where the villainous Captain Hook and the brave Lost Boys await.

Enchanting, nostalgic and a delight for both children and parents, this is a book to treasure forever...

(Macmillan, hardback, £14.99)

Age 7 plus:

Rover and the Big Fat Baby by Roddy Doyle and Chris Judge

Get ready to laugh until you cry as Booker Prize-winning Irish writer Roddy Doyle returns with another absurdly funny Rover the dog adventure.

Rover the wonder dog and the eccentric but lovable Mack family seem to get into one madcap mess (literally!) after another and their efforts to find a baby thief are not to be poo-pooed in this latest mission of mercy.

The BFB (Big Fat Baby) is missing! Can Rover the wonder dog and his little nephew Messi (who is actually very tidy) track her down? While Rover and co are hot on the trail of the BFB, via Granny Mack’s backpack, the post lady’s basket and a plane bound for Africa, it looks like the Gigglers (small, furry creatures who secretly look after kids) are about to run out of the ammunition they use on mean adults… poo! And without an urgent delivery from Rover, how will they be able to give the Giggler Treatment to grumpy adults and help kids all over the country?

Chris Judge provides the illustrations for this hilarious odyssey which delivers the trademark method to all that Doyle-style madness.

Expected the unexpected… and enjoy every minute of it!

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Road To Ever After by Moira Young

Not for nothing has Moira Young’s brilliant new novel for middle graders been described as It's a Wonderful Life meets A Christmas Carol.

Every line, every thought, every idea in this magical book about an orphan boy on a remarkable journey of self-discovery has been worked up into an unforgettable modern classic.

Davy David, an orphan, lives by his wits in the dead-end town of Brownvale. When a stray dog called George turns Davy’s life upside down just days before Christmas, he sets in motion a chain of events which forces them to flee.

A mischievous wind blows the two of them to a boarded-up museum on the outskirts of town where they meet the elderly recluse, Miss Elizabeth Flint. She has planned one last adventure before her time is up and hires the reluctant Davy and George to escort her.

Young melds fantasy and real-life, humour and heart-rending emotions as we revel in an unlikely friendship that transcends time and convention.

Beautifully written and imbued with genuine warmth and wisdom.

(Macmillan, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Moone Boy: The Marvellous Activity Manual by Chris O’Dowd and Nick V. Murphy

It’s the Christmas lull in the little Irish town of Boyle but Martin Moone knows that anything can happen…

And when you put together Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, his screenwriter pal Nick Vincent Murphy and an 11-year-old boy with a wicked wit and an outrageously overactive imagination, you know it will be something outrageously hilarious!

If you haven’t already met Martin Moone, he’s the star of an award-winning hit TV sitcom co-written by O’Dowd and Murphy, and also co-starring O’Dowd. The story of Martin is based on O’Dowd’s own family life as he grew up in Boyle, County Roscommon, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And now Martin and his imaginary friend Sean ‘Caution’ Murphy have become the stars of a series of brilliant books which whisk readers away to the marvellous, madcap world of Moone Boy.

Brought to life by zany illustrations and featuring irrepressible (and sometimes naughty!) Irish humour, Martin’s adventures in his amazingly imaginative world are ideal for youngsters who enjoy reading alone… though they may want to share the occasional joke with an adult!

In their latest outing, there is the chance to enjoy an exclusive new Moone Boy story, a comic strip adventure, plenty of jokes and a bumper crop of activities and games, including Imaginary Friend top trumps, learn to draw Martin Moone and many more.

Featuring all of Martin’s friends (and enemies) and packed with advice on finding your own Imaginary Friend (IF), The Marvellous Activity Manual is the ultimate companion for fans of the series.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Spirit of the Jungle by Bear Grylls

The new Jungle Book adventure

Real-life adventurer Bear Grylls returns with another rip-roaring journey into breathtaking adventure and bare-knuckle survival.

Grylls has become known around the world as one of the most recognised faces of survival and outdoor adventure. Trained from an early age in martial arts and taught to climb and sail by his father, he spent three years as a soldier in the British Special Forces, serving with 21 SAS before becoming one of the youngest-ever climbers to conquer Mount Everest.

Spirit of the Jungle is an exciting contemporary action-adventure inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book, and follows a young boy’s battle for survival in the wilds of India.

Mak has left his comfortable home in London to travel to India with his parents for his uncle’s funeral. But after being washed away down the Wainganga River during a flash flood, Mak wakes up alone in the Indian jungle.

The jungle is full of danger – poisonous snakes, cunning monkeys and desperate poachers – and every step Mak takes might be his last. Mak finds help and friendship from other jungle creatures, but he will need all his skill and luck to survive and make his way back home.

An unforgettable walk on the wild side…

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Young Adult:

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Could this be the ultimate Christmas gift? A beautiful, illustrated gift edition of The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge’s extraordinary dark and powerful novel which won the 2015 Costa Book of the Year.

This beautifully produced book, which comes with a ribbon marker, is packed full of atmospheric black and white illustrations by Children’s Laureate and triple Kate Greenaway Medal winning-illustrator Chris Riddell which bring to life Hardinge’s thrilling Victorian drama.

It was not enough. All knowledge – any knowledge – called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father’s journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth… the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith’s search for the tree leads her into great danger – for where lies seduce, truths shatter.

Original, entertaining, clever and compelling, this modern classic thoroughly deserves its stunning new look!

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)

Young Adult:

What Light by Jay Asher

Sink into an exquisitely heart-rending Christmas novel from much-loved American author Jay Asher.

Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It’s an idyllic place for a girl to grow up, except that every year they have to pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives… her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other. Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life begins to eclipse the other…

A tale of first love, forgiveness and the true spirit of the festive season, this is a beautiful story to hug close to your heart.

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Young Adult:

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Magic, intrigue and political power play beckon in a thrilling new young adult fantasy series from Kendare Blake, acclaimed author of Anna Dressed in Blood.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born… three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomach ache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of beasts.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose… it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn 16, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

Three Dark Crowns is a heart-stopping, seductive tale which will knock fantasy fans for six and bowl over all true romantics. Don’t miss it…

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)