CHILDREN'S BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS

Who's afraid of Santa?
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The Snow Lambs by Debi Gliori (Andre Deutsch, pounds 9.99)

A sheep dog is lost, a little boy is worried and a storm is brewing. Sounds familiar? The look may be original - interior scenes of warm red hair, freckles and firelight are set against the icy greys of brave Bess and her journey through snow drifts - but that special relationship between a boy and his dog is just like Lassie. It's all there: a power cut, unfeeling father, whelping ewe - and a happy ending - Bess and Sam are reunited to the sound of newborn bleating. Pass the Kleenex.

The Bad Good Manners Book by Babette Cole (Hamish Hamilton, pounds 9.99)

Lessons in doing the right thing by the inimitable and offbeat Babette Cole. And as you would expect from the creator of Dr Dog ("never wipe your bum and suck your thumb"), we're not talking please and thank you. Tips such as "Don't shampoo with a big tube of glue and don't tell your mum that she's fat", will guarantee instant social success, and appeal to those exasperated parents tired of repeating, "What's the magic word?" Daring good fun, but will it give tinies ideas?

Mr Nodd's Ark by John Yeoman illustrated by Quentin Blake (Hamish Hamilton, pounds 9.99)

Mr Nodd is a carpenter. He has a fine set of tools, a house full of his handiwork (wooden plates, bicycles, even a wooden romper suit), and a Noah fixation. This leads him, after a particularly wet weather forecast, to turn the boat he is building in his garden into an ark. He fills it with his three children, his long-suffering wife ("I don't know where I'm going to hang my washing") and an assortment of pets. The floods turn out to be a heavy shower, and somewhat bizarrely, the Nodds turn into ravers and turn the ark into a Saturday night disco venue. This strange and imaginative story introduces children to woodwork, the Bible, ageing hippies and night clubs. Not bad going for 15 pages.

John Joe and the Big Hen by Martin Waddell illustrated by Paul Howard (Walker Books, pounds 8.99)

Country life circa 1950 and Mammy wants to clean the house. It's Sammy's turn to look after his little brother, John Joe, and sister Mary's day to play. Sammy gets bored and runs off to find his friend, Mary runs off to find Sammy and John Joe is left to be spooked by a large hen. The lesson in responsibility is useful, but the rosy view of simple sunshine days, Aertex shirts and milking stools is not. Children need moral guidance, but they don't need cliches and this book is full of them.

The Little Boat by Kathy Henderson illustrated by Patrick Benson (Walker Books, pounds 8.99)

Captain Pugwash and Baywatch may throw light on certain aspects of beach life, but neither deal, as this book does, with the distress of seeing a favourite play thing bob out to sea. This little boat's journey past fishermen, an oil rig and killer fish to the safety of a beach and another child on an exotic island may help to soothe lost toy tantrums and explain something of life at sea. The rhythmic text adds to an other-worldly atmosphere, but may be difficult for tots to understand.

A Message for Santa by Hiawyn Oram illustrated by Tony Ross (Andersen Press, pounds 8.99)

Emily loves Christmas. But she's not too sure about Santa. She doesn't want to sit on his knee in the grotto. She doesn't want him to climb down her chimney and she certainly doesn't want him near her bed. What a sensible child. After all, for 364 days of the year we tell our children never, ever to talk to strangers, and then at Christmas we announce that some old man they have never met will be visiting them in the middle of the night. Barricading the chimney with toys, as Emily does, seems a perfectly reasonable response. An inspired story.

Prince Shufflebottom by Alan Durant, illustrated by Nick Schoon (Dutton, pounds 9.99)

Prince Bertrand has curly blond hair, a little button nose and doting parents. The first tooth, first smile, first sleep through the night are marked with huge, beaming faces. But "boysie-woysie" will not walk. He shuffles on his bottom instead. Big, bold and out of control - each page explodes with colour, gothic type face and speech bubbles - this picture of parental anxiety and slavish devotion is spot on. (The scattered Duplo bricks are so true to life you can almost feel the pain of them underfoot.)

F-Freezing ABC by Posy Simmonds (Cape, pounds 8.99)

ABC books are generally D for dull. But not this one. The range of words is original - A for apple, yes, but also A for atishoo, anteater and absolutely arctic snow, and best of all, there is a brilliantly illustrated story. Four freezing friends search for a warm house and meet, among others, Walkman-wearing elephants and xylophone-playing yaks. An excellent mix which will make this yet another Posy Simmonds classic. But those expecting an easy read take note: not all the things-that-begin-with-this- letter are flagged in the text. You have to work too.

A Spooky Story: The Monster Party by Stephanie Laslett illustrated by Nigel McMullen (Dutton, pounds 7.99)

You've lifted the flap, pulled the tag and pressed the button, now wonder at the "mindboggling" holograms - the latest gimmick to encourage children to "interact" with a book. The six holograms are spooky - but only because of the weird effect of seeing not only a grotesque goblin, but also a distorted reflection of the reader's grumpy face. All flash and no substance.

Connie Came to Play by Jill Paton Walsh illustrated by Stephen Lambert (Viking, pounds 9.99)

"This is my train", says Robert when Connie comes to play. The same goes for the rope, horse, diving set, trumpet. Robert, like just about every child in the universe, doesn't want to share. So, what does Connie do? Throw a tantrum? Grab the trumpet and start a fight (i.e. behave as other children do)? No. She plays with her own trumpet - in her head. Certainly an original and positive solution, but would it really work? Disappointing.

Piper by Laura Cecil illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Cape, pounds 8.99)

Real dogs don't play with rabbits. They kill them. And for failing to do so, kindhearted, sensitive Piper is kicked out by his horrid master, Mr Jones. However, being in touch with your gentler side has to pay off, even for dogs, and so Piper ends up being fed delicious titbits while reclining on a chaise long. A pleasing story with charming illustrations.

Two Bears and Joe by Penelope Lively illustrated by Jan Ormerod (Viking, pounds 9.99)

Joe's Mum and Dad may think that he is making growly noises to himself, but really he's playing bear games with his two furry chums. Together they swing on stair trees, whoosh and whump in a snow drift bed and bounce and pounce in a curtain cave. The language is striking, the story, enchanting and the world of "let's pretend", absorbing. Next time, Mum should leave the washing up and join them.

Comments