Book review: A winter wonderland of books with Usborne

Nobody does Christmas quite like Usborne, the biggest and most successful independent children’s book publisher in the UK.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 24th November 2014, 9:00 am
A winter wonderland of books with Usborne
A winter wonderland of books with Usborne

Nobody does Christmas quite like Usborne, the biggest and most successful independent children’s book publisher in the UK.

And the proof of the pudding is in the faces of avid readers Isabelle and Jessica Kidd, aged four and two, (pictured) as they get ready for all the fun with two exciting Usborne activity books.

Named Publisher of the Year and Independent Children’s Publisher of the Year for 2014, Usborne produce almost every type of children’s book for every age group, from baby books to young adult novels.

And their bumper Christmas collection includes every child’s dream read from exciting, festive-flavoured sticker and colouring books to an inventive learn-to-play keyboard book and a brilliant guide to writing and drawing your own comics.

So follow the Usborne logo and check out what Santa has in store this Christmas…

Age 3 plus:

My First Keyboard Book by Sam Taplin and Rachel Green

Enjoy music on the move with this ingenious keyboard book which is certain to hit all the right notes with budding maestros.

Just turn the pages and learn to play simple, well-known tunes on the sturdy keyboard attached to the book. Each note is represented by a different colour which corresponds to the same colour on the keys, making it wonderfully accessible to the youngest members of the family.

Watch the joy on little faces as they press the keys to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Frère Jacques, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Three Blind Mice and other family favourites. There are also ideas for making up your own simple tunes and enchanting illustrations to accompany every song.

With easy-to-follow instructions and a simple guide to the low and high notes on a basic keyboard, this is the perfect Christmas gift… fun, educational and portable.

Music to the ears of children everywhere...

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Santa Sticker and Colouring Book by Sam Taplin, Ag Jatkowska and Sam Meredith

Even the youngest members of the family can get stuck into the Christmas spirit with this bumper, 32-page two-books-in-one bonanza.

All that’s needed are a few crayons to colour in the delightful Santa, and a pair of little hands to make fun work of over 150 colourful and easy-to-use stickers.

The jolly festive scenes will provide lots to spot, look at and talk about including Santa’s elves in their workshop, his reindeer in their stable and Father Christmas himself as he squeezes down chimneys to deliver a sack full of presents.

Children will love helping Santa get ready for his busiest time of the year, adding the correct stickers as he packs his sleigh, rounds up his band of reindeer and decorates a Christmas tree.

With stickers of elves, reindeer, stockings, presents and delicious food, and plenty of pictures to colour in along the way, this is an enchanting introduction to the magic of Christmas.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Farmyard Tales lift-the-flap Christmas by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright

What could be better than peeping under the flaps to find out what farmer’s children Poppy and Sam Boot are getting up to at Christmas?

Farmyard Tales lift-the-flap Christmas is a vision of colour and simply irresistible for any youngster who has learned that getting ready for Christmas is nearly (but not quite!) as exciting as the big day.

Cartwright’s lively illustrations bring to life the frantic fun of preparations and with dozens of flaps to lift, all revealing delightful surprises and messages, every picture really does tell a story.

This hard-wearing picture book, with over 30 flaps to lift, provides an exciting, interactive reading experience for young children who will love to make their own discoveries about Poppy and Sam’s Christmas presents.

From boxes, doors and cards to curtains, cushions and windows, there’s a feast of flaps to open on every page.

A heart-warming Christmas message about the joys of giving…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Usborne Christmas Wonderland to Colour by Abigail Wheatley and Sophie Crichton

Take an early trip to the wonderful world of Christmas with this big, beautiful colouring book which is packed with festive scenes just waiting to spring to colourful life.

These stylish and beautifully nostalgic illustrations are ideal to keep children occupied in the busy run-up to the big day.

Each page captures some of the traditions associated with this time of the year… carol singing, toboggans in the snow, decorating the tree, Santa’s workshop, ice skating in the park, cakes and treats, a Christmas market and even a gingerbread house.

There is also information about the background and history of the different Christmas traditions pictured, and the background is already coloured in to allow children to concentrate on the fun details.

Christmas Wonderland to Colour is the perfect start to the Christmas celebrations… no home should be without one!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Look Inside Our World by Emily Bone and Marianna Oklejak

Get ready for a voyage of discovery with this fascinating flap book which lifts the lid on the workings of our wide and wonderful world.

This ingenious and enthralling journey to the centre of the Earth features bold illustrations, simple explanations to complex questions and over 60 flaps to lift in the quest to understand the basics of geography and geology.

What is the Earth made of and what goes on beneath the surface? Discover how rivers flow from mountains all the way to the sea, meet some of the thousands of different creatures that live in the rainforests, dive into the mysteries of our vast oceans and seek out the dry world of the deserts.

Intrepid explorers will delight in learning about the layers that make up planet Earth, the tiniest rainforest insects and the creatures which live at the very bottom of the sea. There is information about the hottest and coldest parts of the world, and a map with lift-the-flap details about each continent.

Every page is an adventure with flaps to lift and facts to unfold, offering an exciting and extraordinary journey for young explorers. A whole world of learning in one amazing book…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Sticker Dolly Dressing Fashion Designer: Winter Collection

Check out what the best-dressed girls are wearing this winter and then choose your favourite outfit!

There are hours of fashion fun to be enjoyed in a bumper book of doll dressing with over 350 stickers featuring a fabulous range of colourful clothes and stylish accessories.

Young fashionistas will love the gorgeous array of clothing from hats and scarves to colourful tabards, coats, sweaters and dresses, as well as hints and tips to help decide which patterns and colour combinations are best for the cold weather.

There are also 150 blank stickers to customise and lots of ideas for creating your own fashion sketchbook and selecting swatch stickers for mood boards.

Dress the dolls in Nordic knits and winters coats for ice skating, cosy capes and evening gowns for a masked winter ball, warm coats and hats for a walk on a crisp winter’s day or even salopettes and goggles for skiing.

A mid-winter’s night dream for girls who love dressing up…

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 8 plus:

Write and Draw your own Comics by Louie Stowell, Jess Bradley and a host of comic artists

Kapow! Boom! Woo hoo! You don’t have to be a comic genius to create your very own comic… and Usborne’s fantastic new activity book will help youngsters to ‘draw’ on their talents.

This wonderfully designed and incredibly easy-to-follow book helps budding cartoonists to imagine and put together their own comic strips. Simple step-by-step instructions, with lots of handy tips and hints, show children how to create graphic stories using all the devices employed in ‘real’ comics.

Packed with advice and examples, the book contains ideas for characters and storylines, sample comic strips, and drawing tips from well-known comic book artists like Laura Howell from The Beano and Neill Cameron from The Phoenix.

There are over 130 useful stickers, with sound bubbles and other comic features, to help create characters, think up storylines, write dialogue, use sound effects, draw action sequences, portray emotions like surprise, anger or pleasure, and then – abracadabra – put it all together to make your own magical comic book adventure.

Basic comic strips have already been drawn as a guide and include plenty of spaces for youngsters to make their own designs. And with simple writing and drawing activities to help them get into the comic groove, there’s no excuse for not getting stuck into the creative fun.

And if your young artists want to find out more about writing and drawing comic strips, they can visit and simply type in the title of the book.

A comic creation that will let children have the last laugh…

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

Compton Valance: The Time-Travelling Sandwich Bites Back by Matt Brown

How do you get a fidgety, free-thinking, free-wheeling boy to knuckle down and read (let alone enjoy) a book?

Best advice is to give him a book that includes time-travel, stinkiness, adventure, disgusting burps, killer robots, secret agents, rancid sludge and the almost obligatory references to breaking wind.

Sounds impossible? Well, meet Compton Valance, a 10-year-old boy whose zany antics are the stuff of naughty childhood dreams.

He is the creation of DJ and TV presenter Matt Brown who admits that writing about Compton was the next best thing to living his own childhood dream of creating a time travel machine. And Compton’s adventures are just the start of a new series which looks set to raise more laughs than the proverbial slip on a banana skin.

Compton Valance has an incredible secret… he can travel through time using a stinky sandwich. And now he’s in big trouble because his evil brother Bravo has stolen the sandwich and is biting his way through time, causing chaos. It’s up to Compton and his bungling mate Bryan to stop Bravo before time runs out and the universe implodes. Yes, really.

Lizzie Finlay’s suitably madcap illustrations, a dazzling array of narrative styles, hilarious schoolboy humour and amazing plot twists make this a journey of blissful discovery for bored youngsters with a well-developed sense of mischief!

Stomach-churning for mums, fun for dads… and heaven for little boys!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 14 plus:

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne

‘I’m boring, I’m a nobody. I don’t live life.’

Holly Bourne knows all about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager… at 28, her memory bank must still teeming with painful recollections of peer pressure, bullying, insecurity, first love and all the other turmoils of youth.

But it’s not just her empathy that makes her writing so remarkable… it’s the breathtakingly imaginative and emotive way she puts her hard-earned experience and wisdom into funny, moving, compelling books that speak loudly to troubled teens.

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting follows on from Bourne’s much-acclaimed debut Soulmates but inhabits a different universe. While Soulmates was an electrifying paranormal romance, this clever, bold, cautionary story is grounded firmly in reality.

Seventeen-year-old Bree has come to the conclusion that she is a ‘massive loser’ but she hasn’t always felt that way about herself. For years she considered she had life and her future career sussed. She was going to be a novelist and to that end, she had plotted a no-fail manifesto.

It didn’t matter that other parts of her life were not what she wanted them to be. She hates that her rich parents seem too busy to listen to her, she tries to keep clear of the ‘perfect posse’ of girls at her private school and she certainly doesn’t like the pressure on her to make herself more ‘popular.’

But now a pile of rejection letters telling her that her second attempt at a novel – about a girl who wants to throw herself off the end of a pier – is something that publishers can’t ‘take forward’ has dented her conviction that she was born to be a writer.

Taking on board the advice of her English teacher Mr Fellows that to be a good writer she must do more interesting things and live a life worth writing about, Bree has come up with another of her endless lists… this time a manifesto on how to be interesting.

She has six steps that she must follow, six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and do all the things that others are too scared to do.

Her journey of self-discovery from ‘the invisible girl’ to ‘someone you would want to read about’ will lead her down paths more perilous than she could ever have imagined…

Intelligent but introverted Bree might not seem at first to be an ‘every girl’ but her fears, her emotions, her vulnerability, her search for love and happiness are universal and her way of looking at the world and working through her dilemmas will strike a chord with both teens and their parents.

Bourne is a prodigiously talented author who has the gift of making fiction seem real and as she so eloquently proves in this beautiful story, being ‘interesting’ isn’t important… but being happy and true to yourself is.

(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)