Book reviews: Fun, friendship and fantasy make Christmas special

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Alison Ritchie and Marisa Morea
The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Alison Ritchie and Marisa Morea

From a bored princess and an abandoned kitten to a mischievous little dragon and twelve dogs a-leaping, there are books to delight every child as the countdown to Christmas gets under way.

Age 3 plus:

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Alison Ritchie and Marisa Morea

Look out… there’s twelve dogs a-leaping!

Your little ones will be well and truly collared when they dive into this riotous, rhyming picture book countdown to Christmas which has adorable pooches peeping out from every page.

The big day has almost arrived and one little puppy is very excited about his first ever Christmas. But with three drooling Dalmatians, six sausage-snaffling Scotties and every dog in town helping out, the festive season is a shambles! Will everything be ready in time for Christmas Day?

Author Alison Ritchie’s sparkling rhyming story and Spanish illustrator Marisa Morea’s gallery of charismatic canines capture all the madness and mayhem of a pack of mischievous dogs, and the excitement of the run-up to Christmas. And youngsters will love picking their favourite dogs and spotting the puppy in the busy, beautifully detailed scenes.

A wonderfully imaginative way to introduce children to those favourite Christmas traditions…

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Can Doctor Proctor Save Christmas? by Jo Nesbø

Jo Nesbø, one of the most successful Norwegian authors of all time, is back with another explosive story in his laugh-out-loud Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder series for children.

So hold on to your sides and join Doctor Proctor, Nilly and Lisa as they try to stop Christmas going down the pan.

When the king of Norway sells the rights to Christmas to greedy Mr Thrane, it looks like the holidays aren’t going to be very merry. Mr Thrane says that the only people who can celebrate are those who buy 10,000 crowns worth of presents from his department store. For anyone who doesn’t – or can’t – spend that much, it’s no tree, no presents, no carols, and no Christmas pudding. ​

Fortunately, Doctor Proctor, Nilly, and Lisa aren’t going to take this sitting down. They’ are going to find Santa and save Christmas. All they need is a sleigh, flying reindeer, some time travel soap and, of course, some fart powder!

Expect super silly fun, plenty of fart-tastic escapades and lots of Christmas jokes in this fast-paced, off-beat flight of Norwegian comic fancy.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Atlas of Monsters by Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill

History, mythology, intrigue and discovery… turn the pages of this amazing Atlas of Monsters and take an unforgettable trip around the world!

Step inside this wondrous atlas and you will find trolls and dragons, centaurs and krakens, chimera and werewolves, goblins and giants ... and an intriguing puzzle to solve on every page.

Written by an Elizabethan adventurer in the form of a long-lost ‘atlas’ of all the beasts and monsters of the earth, and with a mysterious code at its heart, the atlas invites readers to join the quest to find the truth of his discoveries.

One day a collection of very old maps is unearthed in a dusty library at Hardacre Manor in Berkshire. They show where in the world monsters from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with them, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 16th century. But who was Walters and did he really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain ... and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log?

There is so much more than meets the eye in this spectacular Atlas of Monsters with every page carrying a hidden code to crack the monsters’ cryptic messages.

Stuart Hill's spectacular illustrations evoke the beauty of a medieval map, but with an appealing contemporary twist, while the fascinating story, written with humour and a light-hearted narrative, make this book an exciting journey of discovery for fans of myths and monsters.

Fun and learning in one big, exciting book.

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Elephant in the Room by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon

Big is beautiful in this extraordinary picture book which takes storytelling and illustration to a stunning new level.

Billed as Edward Lear meets Yellow Submarine, The Elephant in the Room is a unique collaboration between exciting new author James Thorp and talented illustrator Angus Mackinnon. This dynamic partnership has produced an intriguing, madcap, rhyming mystery that is a masterclass in fabulous storytelling and brilliant illustration, and guaranteed to keep readers guessing until the very end.

It started with an oops! … and a look out! … and a crash! Someone has smashed Father Giant’s favourite china elephant and he’s not happy. In fact, when he finds out who did it, he will make them find each tiny piece and glue it back together then leave the house forever. It wasn’t Olive and her brother Grub. Nor was it the naughty newt, the laughing lady or the yucky yak. So just who IS the culprit?

Thorp’s flawless rhyming text is a joy to read aloud and the bold, stylised illustrations, highlighted with an eye-catching neon orange, add a surreal twist to this remarkable storytelling extravaganza.

(Templar, hardback, £11.99)

Age 5 plus:

A Kitten Called Holly by Helen Peters and Ellie Snowdon

Snuggle up and enjoy a gorgeous new adventure in the hearwarming Jasmine Green Series.

A Kitten Called Holly is the fourth book in author Helen Peters and illustrator Ellie Snowdon’s much-loved series of animal stories which follow the adventures of Jasmine Green and her trusty sheepdog Sky.

Jasmine’s dad is a farmer and her mum is a large-animal vet so Jasmine spends a lot of time caring for animals and keeping them out of trouble. When Jasmine and her friend Tom rescue an abandoned kitten, Jasmine is desperate to keep her. But her parents decide to sell Holly the kitten, and Jasmine is not happy with her new owner. Can Jasmine and Tom give Holly the best ever Christmas present… a good home?

Peters is a brilliant storyteller, writing gentle tales of adventure that teach children the importance of kindness, care and understanding, and all brought to life by Snowdon’s enchanting black and white illustrations.

A Christmas treat for all animal lovers…

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

There’s a Dragon in my Stocking! by Tom Nicoll and Sarah Horne

All I want for Christmas is… a Mini-Dragon!

If your little ones haven’t yet met Pan, the tiny pet dragon who always leaves chaos in his wake, then introduce them to the latest Christmas cracker in this madcap adventure series and they will be laughing their socks off in the season of jollity.

Small dragon Pan means big trouble for his long-suffering owner Eric but on Christmas Eve they are thrilled to hear something coming down the chimney. However, their festive visitors aren’t quite who they were expecting… it’s Pan’s parents and they are in town for the holidays. With a full house – including, to Eric’s dismay, the dreaded Bloom family – Eric has a tough time keeping Pan’s parents away from his own family. Then disaster strikes, leaving them all without Christmas dinner. Can the Mini-Dragons step in to save the day?

Tom Nicoll’s fun, action-packed story is filled with comedy capers and one liners, all brought to vivid life by Sarah Horne’s equally anarchic black and white illustrations.

A fiery feast for dragon fans!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Real Boat by Marina Aromshtam and Victoria Semykina

Sail away on a magical voyage of discovery in this quirky picture book packed with wonder, adventure and excitement.

The Real Boat is the work of Russian author and illustrator duo Marina Aromshtam and Victoria Semykina and follows the fortunes of a paper boat as it sets out on a journey to become a real boat on the big ocean.

When the humble paper boat learns that there is such a place as the ocean, a vast stretch of water that joins the sky, he is determined to go there so he can be a real boat. On his journey he meets all sorts of friends, from the strong little tug boat to the glittering ocean liner. But he also learns that the real ocean is huge and deep… and full of dangers.

Aromshtam’s lyrical text and Semykina’s stylish illustrations combine in a glorious cascade of words and pictures to create an enchanting modern fable that will delight children and parents alike.

(Templar, hardback, £14.99)

Age 4 plus:

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells! by Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton

Get your skates on… Christmas will have to be put on ice unless someone can find who has stolen Santa’s presents!

Welcome back to another slice of baking adventures with Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, two bungling robbers who gave up a life of crime to become the best – and bravest – bakers in town.

Much-loved author Tracey Corderoy and star illustrator Steve Lenton cook up a storm as their two delightfully dogged detectives set out to solve another series of wild and wacky mysteries.

And Shifty and Sam certainly have a lot on their plates in these three hilarious read-aloud stories following the adventures of everyone’s favourite baker boys. Someone has stolen all of Santa’s presents, a sea monster is spoiling fairground fun day and a weird cat has cursed Sam. You’d better pass the buns because it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride.

These brilliant stories are told with wit and charm by Corderoy and brought to life by Lenton’s busy, bold and fun-filled illustrations in a two-colour format, ideal for children growing in confidence as readers and beginning to read alone.

Two wickedly funny reformed crooks who are sure to steal your heart!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton

We all love having friends… but poor little Princess Eliza doesn’t have any!

Take flight to the top of the world for a gorgeous rhyming picture book story packed with the magic of Christmas and a marvellously inventive princess.

Author Caryl Hart and illustrator Sarah Warburton are back to steal our hearts again with their fourth festive book in the popular Princess series which encourages girls to celebrate their skills, no matter how un-princessy they might be.

Princess Eliza is brilliant at making toys and gadgets but her mum, the queen, wants her to start making friends instead. In Santa’s workshop, the elves are worried… Santa is ill and they don’t know how they will get everything ready for Christmas. Luckily, Eliza arrives with her amazing gadget inventing skills to save the day and makes some unexpected friends along the way. And her reward will take her round the world and back!

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue is positively bursting with Christmas fun and fabulous eye-catching illustrations, and also comes with a free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book. Just scan in the code inside the front cover.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

One Noisy Night by M Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton

Everyone’s favourite hedgehog is back for a brand new adventure.

This is the tenth festive outing for M Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton’s cute little hedgehog whose crowning glory is his velvety, touch-and-feel red woollen hat… a truly amazing hat that always seems to save the day.

In their latest adventure, Little Hedgehog and his friends have a puzzle to solve. Strange creaking sounds are coming from the woods. And Fox is sure he saw Little Hedgehog down by the river in the middle of the night. Will the friends solve the mystery of the very noisy night?

Butler and Macnaughton capture the spirit of bravery and the reassurance of shared friendships in this beautifully illustrated winter time adventure. And little ones will love getting their hands on that fun and fuzzy red hat!

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a Little Hedgehog adventure…

(Little Tiger, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Perfect Present by Stella J Jones and Caroline Pedler

There’s a special lesson on the joys of friendship in this heart-melting Christmas feelgood story from Stella J Jones and Caroline Pedler.

Billy and Bella the little bears are the very best of friends. There is nothing they like better than whizzing out together on their bike and scooter, and nothing they wouldn’t do to make each other happy, particularly at Christmas time. But what if getting each other a special present meant giving up something they really love?

The Perfect Present is a wonderful Christmas tale which encapsulates beautifully the Christmas message about giving, receiving and friendship. With enchanting festive illustrations and a story that tugs at the heartstrings, little ones will love snuggling up with this cosy winter-warmer.

(Little Tiger, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Santa to the Rescue! by Barry Timms and Ag Jatkowska

The excitement of Christmas comes alive in this captivating picture book from top author and illustrator team Barry Timms and Ag Jatkowska.

It’s Christmas Eve and the bears of Mistletoe Mountain are snowed in. The animals of Holly Tree Forest must make their way to Santa’s grotto and work together to help him save the day. But can they get all the presents, sorted, wrapped and delivered in time?

Santa to the Rescue! is brimming with festive fun and fantastically detailed illustrations, perfect for sharing with your little ones and guaranteed to get the Christmas countdown well and truly under way!

(Little Tiger, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Oliver Elephant by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens

Get ready to oooh and aaah as you journey through a beautiful picture book with toddler Noah and his favourite toy elephant Oliver.

Author Lou Peacock and illustrator Helen Stephens work their special brand of magic on this delightful rhyming story featuring a little boy on a Christmas shopping trip.

When Noah goes Christmas shopping with his mum and baby sister, he has a brilliant time with his toy elephant Oliver, playing peekaboo, hiding in a doll’s house and dancing on a table. But disaster strikes when Oliver the elephant goes missing just as they are all about to leave for home. And oh dear, the department store is very big. Will Noah ever find his favourite toy again?

Every child and every mother will empathise with this cosy, warm-hearted story – cleverly imagined and beautifully illustrated – which follows Noah’s escapades in the shops.

There is also a free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book. Simply scan in the code inside the front cover.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)