Christmas Gift Guide: Beautiful books to inspire a lifelong love of reading
Need Christmas gift inspiration? Here are over 60 suggestions for children and teenagers
If you don’t know what to buy for a young person, nonfiction is a great place to start,
and ideal for encouraging an interest in books too. Billy Conker’s Nature Spotting Adventure by Conor Busutill (O’Brien Press, €14.99, age 5-8) is an interactive exploration of wild habitats, certain to keep readers occupied for hours. The Greatest Show on Earth by Mini Grey (Puffin, £14.99, age 5-8) takes us through 4.6 billion years of life on Earth, in the style of an entertaining theatre performance. The Magic of Seasons by Vicky Woodgate (Dorling Kindersley, £9.99, age 7-9) is a funny and informative tour of the universe with Mimi the cat, who explains the origins and significance of seasons. Toxic: The World’s Deadliest Creatures by Ico Romero Reyes and Tània García (Thames and Hudson, £12.99, age 8-12) reveals that even cute animals like the slow loris and the platypus can be dangerous, and includes tips for budding toxicologists. Curious Creatures Working with Tools by Zoë Armstrong and Anja Sušanj (Flying Eye Books, £12.99, age 5-8) demonstrates how crafty and resourceful animals can be.
The Bedtime Book of Impossible Questions by Isabel Thomas and Aaron Cushley (Bloomsbury, £12.99, age 7-9) is packed with fascinating queries and answers, and helps curious minds unwind after a busy day. Young artists will enjoy Draw with Rob: Amazing Animals by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins, £7.99, age 6-10), the latest from the internet sensation who shared free online art lessons all through lockdown. A journal
that allows its owners to compile a book about themselves, What I Love About Me (Studiopress, £11.99, age 12+) is an excellent gift for introspective teenagers, creating a time capsule that can be revisited by future selves or even future generations.
Festive books make the month of December even more special, especially when they channel all the wonder from a child’s perspective. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush by Yu-hsuan Huang (Nosy Crow, £6.99, age 0-2) is a sturdy board book with sliding pictures that can be moved by little hands. Children will be in stitches when an exhausted Santa takes a nap at the Three Bears’ cottage in Father Christmas and the Three Bears by Lou Peacock and Margarita Kukhtina (Nosy Crow, £6.99, age 2-5). A tribute to bookshops, as well as to words and language, and the spirit of the season, The Winter Wish by Helen Mortimer and Rachael Dean (HarperCollins, £12.99, age 3-7) is an exquisite story in which wishes really do come true.
Largely set in an old-fashioned toy shop, Kid Christmas by David Litchfield (Frances Lincoln, £12.99, age 3-7) places children firmly at the centre of Santa’s origins story and is breathtaking. Through the North Pole Snow by Polly Faber and Richard Jones (Walker, £12.99, age 3-7) is a poignant tale about a fox who comes to stay with a certain red-suited gentleman. The Grumpus by Alex T. Smith (Macmillan, £12.99, age 5-8) is the latest from an author-illustrator who has become synonymous with Christmas. Based on a Polish folktale and filled with wonderful illustrations, this is as funny and festive a story as you’re likely to find.
Poems always resonate with children and poetry books can be cherished for entire lifetimes. Smile Out Loud: 25 Happy Poems by Joseph Coelho and Daniel Gray-Barnett (Wide Eyed Editions, £12.99, age 5-8) is a lively anthology from Britain’s children’s laureate. The Big Amazing Poetry Book compiled by Gaby Morgan and illustrated by Chris Riddell (Macmillan, £16.99 age 8-11) contains 52 poets and 364 poems across a variety of styles, including haiku, sonnet, rap and riddle.
And Everything Will Be Glad to See You: Poems by Women and Girls chosen by Ella Risbridger and illustrated by Anna Shepeta (Nosy Crow, £20, age 6-12) is a fantastic selection accompanied by spectacular artwork, featuring a wide range
of contemporary and classic writers such as Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Nikita Gill. Irish-Kashmiri poet Nikita Gill also released her own impressive collection to help young women navigate life, These Are the Words: Fearless verse to find your voice (Macmillan, £7.99, age 13+), and it's one of the best gifts available for any teenage girl.
Although attractive to grown-ups, classics don’t always appeal to the very young, but some old favourites have been refreshed this year. Toad Hall is revisited in two new books: The Wind in The Willows by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Jojo Clinch (Puffin, £7.99 age 2-5), a delightful picture book for toddlers to pre-schoolers, and The Wind in The Willows by Lou Peacock and Kate Hindley (Nosy Crow, £16.99, age 5-8), which is a gorgeous illustrated hardback for older readers. Both retain all the magic, as well as the mischief.
Despite practically growing up in Enid Blyton’s enchanted forest, I much prefer The Magic Faraway Tree by Jacqueline Wilson (Hodder, £12.99, age 7-9). Wilson has updated Blyton’s stories in a way that stays true to the originals while surpassing their brilliance. Darling by India Knight (Fig Tree, £14.99, age 12+) is a witty and charming retelling of The Pursuit of Love that makes a great gift for adult Mitford fans as well as adolescents.
Future Classics for Younger Readers
This year saw an abundance of exceptional stories that are certain to endure. 100 First Words: Nature by Edward Underwood (Nosy Crow, £12.99, age 0-2) is a cute and colourful lift-the-flap first word book, filled with flora and fauna. Dear Little One by Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillón (Simon & Schuster, £12.99, age 0-3) reads like a letter from Mother Nature to a newborn, and is a visual treat. With Look, It's Twit Twoo Owl by Camilla Reid and Clare Youngs (Nosy Crow, £7.99, age 0-3), babies and toddlers can play hide and seek with a host of forest friends.
Thank You for the Little Things by Caryl Hart and Emily Hamilton (Bloomsbury, £6.99, age 0-5) combines two colossal picture book talents and expertly captures a child’s-eye view of the world. By the same author, The Girl Who Planted Trees by Caryl Hart and Anastasia Suvorova (Nosy Crow £7.99, age 3-6) is an eloquent and vibrant story about community and conservation. Also on the subject of trees, Old Oak and Little Acorn by Elena Mannion and Erin Brown (Pikku, £12.99, age 3-6) explores nature's cycles with illustrations reminiscent of the Brambley Hedge books. One Tiny Dot by Lucy Rowland and Gwen Millward (Templar, £7.99, age 0-5) is an uplifting celebration of kindness that already looks and feels like a classic. Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll by Britta Teckentrup (Prestel, £10.99, age 0-5) is a soothing story, filled with lush landscapes, for lulling little ones to sleep.
Leina and the Lord of the Toadstools by Myriam Dahman, Nicolas Digard and Júlia Sardà (Orchard, £12.99, age 5-8) is an eerie masterpiece that’s in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm, only better. The Boy Who Lost His Spark by Maggie O'Farrell and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Walker, £14.99, age 5-8) fashions fresh folklore, introducing the impish ’nouka’ who transforms a child’s life. Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire and David Litchfield (Walker, £12.99, age 6-9), illuminates a family of rabbits and their woodland community and has stunning illustrations. The Frost Goblin by Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock (Simon & Schuster, £14.99, age 4-8), about a boy who meets a family of goblins on a frosty night, is a timeless tale sure to warm little (and big) hearts. The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories by various authors, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre (Faber, £20, age 5-8) is a cheerful and comforting compendium from some of the book world’s brightest stars.
Future Classics for Older Readers Centering on a travelling boarding school, Libby and the Parisian Puzzle by Jo Clarke (Firefly Press, £7.99, age 8-11) has an irresistible premise and is perfect for amateur sleuths. Wren by Lucy Hope (Nosy Crow, £7.99, age 9-12) is a lyrical and atmospheric tale set in an ancient castle. The Tale of Truthwater Lake by Emma Carroll (Faber, £12.99, age 9-12) spans the future and the past as it weaves a compelling mystery that stays with the reader. Mouse Heart by Fleur Hitchcock (Nosy Crow, £6.99, age 9-11) draws readers into an old-fashioned fictional realm with daring deeds, dastardly villains and one unique hero. Based on true events, While the Storm Rages by Phil Earle (Andersen Press, £7.99, age 9-11) is historical fiction about a boy who tries to save his dog when the British government decrees that all pets must be put down.
My Friend the Octopus by Lindsay Galvin (Chicken House, £7.99, age 9-11) is a high-stakes Victorian adventure with an unusual alliance at its heart. Always Clementine by Carlie Sorosiak (Nosy Crow, £6.99, age 9-11) chronicles the quaint and captivating correspondence of a little mouse, and recalls the utter genius of E.B. White. Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna (Welbeck, £12.99, age 9-11) is a spellbinding debut that has echoes of The Worst Witch by Judy Murphy and Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, while remaining wholly original. Unraveller by Francis Hardinge (Macmillan, £12.99, age 13+) builds a dark and sophisticated fairy tale world where readers can take shelter. Baby Love by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin, £12.99, age 15+) concerns the teenage residents of a mother and baby home in the 1960s, and broke my heart in a million different ways, but is ultimately a hopeful, and incredibly important book.
Irish Books for younger readers
This small island is home to an enormous wealth of children’s book talent, and while it’s not possible to list every new Irish title, here are some highlights. Babies and toddlers will love pursuing a runaway puffin all over the Blasket Islands with the new abridged, board version of Where Are You Puffling? by Erika McGann and Gerry Daly (O’Brien Press, €9.99, age 0-3).
The above illustration is from a dazzling book that’s remarkably gentle despite all its dynamism: Be Wild Little One by Irish author Olivia Hope and Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury, £6.99, age 0-3). This is one you’ll want to buy for every newborn. The Wilderness by Steve McCarthy (Walker, £12.99, age 4-7) is an intricately illustrated and extremely comical story about leaving your comfort zone. Cloud Babies by Eoin Colfer and Chris Judge (Walker, £12.99, age 4-7) will have children looking away from screens and up at the sky.
One of Ireland’s most prolific and most-talented author-illustrators, Paddy Donnelly, has lots to choose from. The Vanishing Lake by Paddy Donnelly (O’Brien Press, €9.99, age 3-6) is based on a real place in Antrim, and fuelled by the magic of the Irish countryside as well as the imagination. Fox & Son Tailers by Paddy Donnelly (O’Brien Press, €14.99, age 4-6) is a fabulous story about following your dreams.
Paddy has also illustrated two Irish-language picture books that are go-hálainn ar fad: An Slipéar Gloine by Fearghas Mac Lochlainn and Paddy Donnelly (Futa Fata, €12.95, age 3-6), an award-winning and humorous retelling of Cinderella, and Míp agus Blípín by Máire Zepf and Paddy Donnelly (Futa Fata, €12.95, age 3-6), a brilliant take on the new-sibling theme, all about a baby robot on Mars. Westmeath’s answer to Beatrix Potter has also been busy and Huwie Meets the Red Fox by Dolores Keaveney (DBee Press, €9.99, age 0-4) is another terrific rhyming ode to nature, with gorgeous watercolour artwork.
Irish Books for Older Readers
There are three excellent new treasure troves on Irish mythology for different age groups: Glorious Goddesses of Ancient Ireland by Karen Ward and Paula McGloin (Beehive, €16.99, age 5+) a wonderful introduction to the amazing female deities that were worshipped long ago and perfect for dipping into at bedtime. Mythical Irish Places by Mark Joyce (Currach, €22.99, age 7+) shares the secret history of Ireland’s landmarks and will change the way you look at familiar places,
and Girls Who Slay Monsters by Ellen Ryan and Shona Shirley MacDonald (Harpercollins, £20, age 9+) is a striking tribute to the mighty women of Irish legends with illustrations that are every bit as powerful as its subjects. Bedtime Stories: Incredible Irish Tales from the Past by Rachel Pierce and various illustrators (Scholastic, £16.99, age 5-7) turns real people and events from Ireland’s history into compelling narratives and shows readers how to conduct further research.
The Strange Tale of Barnabus Kwerk by Erika McGann (O’Brien Press, €9.99, age 8-11) is an expertly crafted exploration of worlds within worlds, and their memorable inhabitants. The Book of Secrets by Alex Dunne (O’Brien Press, €12.99, age 8-11) draws on Irish folklore to conjure its own captivating universe, filled with shrewd and sinister fairies. The Sackville Street Caper by Alan Nolan (O’Brien Press, €9.99, age 8-11) teams an 11-year-old Bram Stoker with Molly Malone as they foil a wicked plan to steal Dublin Castle’s crown jewels. Twin Power: Throw-In! by Emma Larkin (O’Brien Press, €8.99, age 8-11) is a rare example of GAA fiction featuring females. The devastating impact of family secrets is explored in Truth Be Told by Sue Divin (Macmillan, £7.99, age 12+). A teenager discovers she’s the family secret - and a werewolf – in hilarious, supernatural romcom Big Bad Me by Aislinn O’Loughlin (Little Island, €10.99, age 13+). Based on a true story, The Choice by Philly McMahon (Gill, €11.99, age 13+) is the coming-of-tale of two Ballymun brothers whose lives take contrasting paths.