As a child, one of the defining moments of Christmas was to curl up on a sofa with a picture book and get lost in the magical world of firelight, snow, moonlit nights and sleigh bells. So, as a grown-up, what better way to get in the mood than to do exactly this (children optional).

Little Bear's Christmas by Norbert Landa (illust: Marlis Scharff-Kniemeyer, Bloomsbury pounds 10.99) is a delightful tale of a baby bear determined to find out what Father Christmas looks like. It is full of breathy excitement and splendid illustrations of deep snow, roaring fires, wholesome wooden toys and a very cheery red-faced Father Christmas.

Another book of wonderment is Paddington and The Christmas Surprise by Michael Bond (illus: RW Alley, Collins, pounds 9.99) as this story of the bear's trip to the grotto at Barkridge's, the local department store, is not a re-issue, but brand new. This makes Paddington nearly 40. But his bumbling bewilderment, duffel coat and Wellingtons still have a certain naive charm.

Contemporary children may prefer An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman (illus: Van Wright and Hu, pounds 9.99) in which the character Tyler asks "Why are angels always pink? Aren't there any black angels?" It's a question no leading retailer could answer when the book's publisher, Frances Lincoln, discovered that none stocked any books with black angels. Thankfully, this warm-hearted story doesn't try to answer the question, either. But it does make you think.

Christmas wouldn't be complete without Scrooge, and Walker has produced a handsome abridged paperback edition of A Christmas Carol (illus: Patrick Benson, pounds 4.99), with some darkly comic illustrations of a spooked Scrooge. For a less hackneyed Christmas classic there is Jonathan Cape's Nutcracker by ETA Hoffman, which inspired Tchaikovsky's ballet: the story of Fritz, Marie and the Nutcracker, a tiny wooden man that captures Marie's imagination. At pounds 19.99 for 138 pages, this isn't a book to be taken lightly, especially as some of Roberto Innocenti's illustrations, although rich and striking, are pretty scary (headless dolls, rats under the bed, creepy gargoyles).

As your children will probably be awake for most of tonight anyway this may not matter, but for a sweeter sleepless night you might be better off with Kaspar's Greatest Discovery by Campbell Paget (illus: Reg Cartwright, Frances Lincoln, pounds 9.99). "Fresh" and "new" ways of telling and selling the same story is the annual Christmas challenge for children's publishers, and this funny and respectful tale of the Three Wise Men is unusual in that it really is both. They are so much fun, and Kaspar is a real card. The wise men have races, tell jokes, stand on their heads and are as silly as the Python team in The Life of Brian. All ages will love it.

Finally, Christmas Every Day by William Dean Howells (in Collins's fab treasury, A Classic Christmas, illus: Christian Birningham, pounds 12.99) is the short story of a little girl who loves Christmas so much she never wants it to end. She gets her wish. Turkeys get so scarce they cost $1,000 a piece, all the woods disappear, and rather than being lovingly delivered, presents get flung over the fence with "take it you horrid old thing!" written on the tag. Like cold turkey, this salutary tale probably isn't what children want, but for broke and exhausted parents it is perfect.

Sally Williams

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