Books for Children: Don't Bug Me, Let Me Read!

Story-books, gripping drama, fierce, fizzing language, poetry that's comforting and challenging, plus books that encourage you to get off your bum (oops, rude word). Here are great present ideas for anyone who'd rather eat a rabbit than read about one in a dress
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2 Willy The Dreamer by Anthony Browne, Walker Books pounds 9.99. Willy the gorilla always has his head in the clouds. He dreams that he is a rock star, that he can fly, that he is a king feasting on bananas (left). This is an intriguing and innovative picture book, but younger readers may be disturbed by the surreality, and will not understand homages to Dal and Magritte. 4+

2 Lonely Misty by Linda Jennings, illus Julia Malim, Magi Publications pounds 8.99. The departure of her kittens leaves Misty feeling sad and empty. Pushed away by her family, she wanders through desolate fields searching for some company. Beautiful illustrations show panoramic winter scenes in stark colours. A moving story, it has the perfect happy ending. 4+

2 Shaggy And Spotty by Ted Hughes, illus David Lucas, Faber pounds 9.99. Shaggy and Spotty are two calamitous dogs who tumble their way round the fair, looking for adventures. They bounce from ride to ride, never touching the ground. Suddenly they flap their paws and find themselves flying over the fair. A surprisingly simple tale for a Poet Laureate, offset with bold, basic sketches. 4+.

2 Nothing But Trouble by Gus Clarke, Anderson pounds 8.99. Maisie is having a bad day. Since her little brother woke her up this morning by sitting on her, things have gone from bad to worse. This energetic story will arouse sympathy in everyone who's ever had a day when nothing goes right. Children will laugh at Maisie's misfortunes, and enjoy the cartoony illustrations. 4+

2 Little Bear's Christmas by Norbert Landa, illus Marlis Scharff-Kniemeyer, Bloomsbury pounds 10.99. Little Bear really wants to see Father Christmas. Forced by nature to sleep through every winter, he is determined not to miss his visit this year. When his alarm goes off, breaking his hibernation, Little Bear enters a strange, snow-filled world. A charming Christmas story, with vivid pictures. 4+

2 Do You Love Me Dad? by Stephen Michael King, Scholastic pounds 9.99. A father has trouble showing his love for his son. Fascinated by boxes, Dad (you can see him, top left) uses his strange obsession to bring them closer together. He builds castles, planes and kites, and thus finds a special way of communicating. The pictures are strong and bold, adding a cartoon style to this quirky tale of parental love. 4+

2 The Brand New Creature by Jemma and Tiphanie Beeke, Levinson pounds 7.99. Set in a far-off land, where elephants and giraffes roam free, this book focuses on a child's quest to find a crocodile. Beautifully illustrated on hand-crafted paper, this book's charm lies in the simplicity of its narrative. The naive, blurry quality of the illustrations captures the dreamlike feel of this tale of childhood innocence. 5+

2 Opera Cats by Susan Herbert, Thames and Hudson pounds 9.95. Cats perform opera? In this exquisite picture book Susan Herbert puts a feline slant on some of the world's best operas. Cats pose as the Queen of Night (see pic, right) and Madam Butterfly, and it all makes a bizarre kind of sense. This amusing, original book appeals to adults and children alike, providing a fantastic introduction to opera. 6+

2 Mama's Perfect Present / Un Cadeau Parfait Pour Maman by Diane Goode, Andersen pounds 8.99. Two children scour the streets of Paris searching for the perfect birthday present for their mother. With the help of their naughty dog Zaza, they explore pet-shops and patisseries, leaving a trail of chaos in their wake. Written in English and French, with delightfully Gallic illustrations. 6+

2 Jaguar by Helen Cowcher, Scholastic pounds 11.99. A new foe is devouring the herds. On the barren plains near the River Orinoco, the hunter becomes the hunted. Man tracks the lithe Jaguar deep into the forest, bent on exacting revenge, until a mystical experience causes him to change his course. Vivid paintings capture the exoticism of South America. The information section at the back illuminates the message of the book, adding a useful educational slant. 6+

2 Miss Spider's Wedding by David Kirk, Scholastic/ Callaway pounds 9.99. Miss Spider thinks she has finally met her Mr Right, but her friends are not so sure. Scheming to find her a more impressive mate they ignore her desire for happiness, and place her at the mercy of the suave but villainous arachnid, Spiderus Reeves. This second Miss Spider story is told in irresistibly witty verse. Kirk's hallucinogenic oil paintings (see main pic, above) bring this unique love story to life for readers of all ages.

2 Chameleons Are Cool by Martin Jenkins, illus Sue Shields, Barefoot pounds 9.99. Chameleons may have bulging eyes, scaly skin and strange noses, but their ability to change colour, swivel their eyes , and catch bugs with their amazingly long tongues makes them the coolest reptiles around! An innovative book which uses bright colours and interactive text to impart information on the feeding, hunting and nesting habits of this maligned creature. A must for anyone considering one as a pet. 6+

2 Hansel and Gretel by Jane Ray, Walker pounds 10.99. An imaginative re-telling of a classic fairy tale which is set apart by Ray's exquisite illustrations. Weaving colour and imagination into the traditional text, her drawings conjure up a fantastical world filled with hideous witches and gingerbread houses. Under 10s may be upset by the hellish images involving the witch, but all ages will feast their eyes on the sweets and treasures, and rejoice in the happy ending. 8+ Pop Up Books Serena Kutchinsky

Katy Cat and Beaky Boo's Playset (Walker pounds 14.99) is a vivid, modern, 3D interpretation of fuzzy felt. Lucy Cousins has created a sturdy, fold- out magnetic stage set with magnetic pieces and paper press-outs so you can create your own dramas for Katy Cat and Becky Boo. For slightly older readers My China Story is a 3D picture book created by Kathryn Trevelyan (Tango Books pounds 10.99). An invitation to tea from Ching Mei is the start of a magical journey for two children and the travelling companions they collect upon the way. Haydn Cornner's illustrations capture beautifully the rich colours of the orient and the pop-ups are entrancing and technically superb.

Another journey is the basis for Aunt Dot's Atlas (Elijay Yildirim, Collins pounds 9.99). Aunt Dot and Uncle Frank won a globetrotting holiday and this scrapbook of maps and souvenirs records their adventures. This atlas is more 2D than 3D but envelopes contain letters to their family which can be pulled out and read.

Egyptian Mummies allows you actually to unwrap a mummy (Bloomsbury pounds 12.99). Milbry Polk's text and Roger Stewart's illustrations interact to explore mummy-making customs and the preparation of the pharaoh's tomb. There is enough detail to satisfy a budding Egyptologist and the pop-ups are sophisticated paper-engineering.

In The Amazing Pull-Out Pop-Up Body in a Book (Dorling Kindersley pounds 12.99), by David Hawcock, a life-size body opens out to reveal how your thigh bone is connected to your hip bone and where your organs are, all surrounded by lively nuggets of contextual information, photos and cartoons.

The Ultimate 3-D Pop-Up Art Book (Ron Van Der Meer and Frank Whitford, Dorling Kindersley pounds 15.99) uses pop-ups to explore colour mixing, perspective, optical illusions and composition in a quest to discover how art is made. Sixty masterpieces are analysed in detail and there is an activity book with simple art projects to create at home.

Pop-o-mania is the ultimate DIY guide - not that there have been many - to making your own pop-ups (Hamlyn Children's Books pounds 12.99). Barbara Valenta's vibrant diagrams and text show how to make things that pop up, turn, lift or slide. Tremendous fun.

Secrets of the Maze describes itself as "An interactive guide to the world's most amazing mazes" (Adrian Fisher and Howard Loxton, Thames and Hudson pounds 14.95). Its interactivity is limited to an acetate sheet and a wipe-off pen for tracing your way through 50 of the world's most complex mazes, but it is definitely a "doing" book rather than simply a book for reading. And the analysis of maze types might even inspire you to design your own. A life-size, fold-out, pop-up maze ... now there's a thought for keeping the family amused on Boxing Day.

Diona Gregory