Books: Children at christmas - The lion, the witch and the website

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The Independent Culture
Annuals used to be big at Christmas. Now, it's treasuries, anthologies and special selections. The idea is the same: buying made easy for godparents or grannies, but I don't remember the Bunty Annual being so hefty. Take The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (Collins, pounds 29.99). It's a beast of a book, thick as the Yellow Pages, but fans will find this a fitting tribute to Lewis's 100th birthday. This is the first time all seven stories have been published together, the first time Pauline Baynes has reworked her original illustrations in colour. For a first read it is, perhaps, scary stuff. But for old hands, this is a real event.

Bigger isn't always better though. Take Spot the dog. You'd have thought that Spot's Bedtime Storybook by Eric Hill, (Frederick Warne, pounds 7.99), with ten stories in one, has to be a good buy. Not so. What young children like about Spot books is that they can carry them around. Chew them. Rip the flaps. Here, the flaps have gone; the stories look squashed. Small hands like small books. Except, of course, when the book is as beautifully illustrated as The Puffin Baby and Toddler Treasury, (Puffin, pounds 14.99), in which case larger hands will want to hold it too. Stories from authors such as Shirley Hughes and Beatrix Potter and nursery rhymes old and new make for a book full of gentle humour and tenderness.

High production values also drive Classic Poetry: an illustrated collection, selected by Michael Rosen, illus. Paul Howard, (Walker, pounds 14.99). It's full of heavyweights (Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats) but Rosen adds such freshness with his absorbing biographies of each poet that children won't notice they're enjoying classic texts.

If only all educational books were as brilliant as A Street Through Time by Dr Anne Millard, illus. by Steve Noon, (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 12.99). Page by page, children are taken on a 12,000-year journey along the same street. You see churches built on the site of ancient temples, wooden bridges destroyed and then remade in stone. It is fascinating - and not a microchip in sight.

Sequels can be disappointing, but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling (Bloomsbury, pounds 10.99) repeats the wonderful sparkle of the first book. Perfect stocking fillers are Action Man: crack of doom and Barbie: Barbie loves her sisters, (Reed, 99p each). Full of stereotypes; but children love them. Older children may prefer All About Michael Owen, (Egmont, pounds 2.99) or Get On-line: cre@te your own web site by Chris Lane (Bloomsbury, pounds 3.99). But to get in the mood, pick up The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, (Penguin, pounds 9.99). This atmospheric picture book still captures the magic of that perfect Christmas.

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