Book review: OUP children’s books are putting the sparkle into Christmas

Forget the games and gadgets wish list this Christmas and let your children discover the true spirit of the season with some very special books.
OUP childrens books are putting the sparkle into ChristmasOUP childrens books are putting the sparkle into Christmas
OUP childrens books are putting the sparkle into Christmas

Oxford University Press have a dazzling selection of reads this year from a girl’s magical friendship with a sick reindeer and a wondrous journey through our beautiful world to a stunning makeover for Mr Toad and a return visit to zoologist Tom Moorhouse’s amazing riverbank voles.

With stories old and new and some of OUP’s best books of the year to choose from, there will be miles of smiles when the big day dawns.

Age 6 plus:

Lucy’s Secret Reindeer by Anne Booth

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Cuddle up and keep warm with Anne Booth’s enchanting Christmas story about a little girl’s quest to nurse a sick reindeer back to health.

With beautifully atmospheric black-and-white illustrations by Sophy Williams, this is an irresistible tale for youngsters starting to read on their own and perfect for sharing with parents on cold winter nights.

When eight-year-old Lucy writes a letter to Santa pleading for the gift of a real-life kitten and offering her help if he needs it – despite her brother Oscar’s taunts that it’s a ‘babyish’ thing to do – she gets an unexpected response.

‘Dear Lucy, Thank you so much for asking me if I needed help this Christmas. What a kind girl you are! As a matter of fact I do. My smallest reindeer is not very well, and needs someone to make him better before Christmas Eve. Starlight guides my sleigh through the night sky so without him, I won’t be able to deliver any presents. Go down to the shed at the bottom of your garden and you will find him. And Lucy, this is top secret! Lots of love from Santa.’

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And true to his word, Santa has left shivering little Starlight in dad’s garden shed. But the young reindeer is poorly and she will have to keep him fed and hidden. If he’s found and if she doesn’t make him better quickly, Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents. It’s up to Lucy to save Christmas…

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Packed with the magic of Christmas time and the warm-hearted spirit of goodwill, Lucy’s Secret Reindeer is written in simple language and short chapters making it an easy and enjoyable read for younger children.

The perfect stocking filler for all little animal lovers…

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Rising by Tom Moorhouse

Last year, Oxford University zoologist Tom Moorhouse took the world of children’s books by storm with a stunning debut novel charting the trials and tribulations of a group of water voles.

The River Singers, a lyrical, emotion-packed story, paid homage to the fragile beauty of the natural world as well as delivering a thrilling, action-packed adventure about a species of animal that is classed as seriously endangered.

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And now the sequel has arrived, returning Moorhouse’s army of fans – young and old – to the banks of the mesmerising Great River and the vivid animal world where excitement and danger are only ever a heartbeat away.

An incredibly evocative and beautifully detailed gallery of black and white illustrations add life and vigour to Moorhouse’s gripping story which is punctuated by his trademark wry humour, timeless messages about the importance of family and friendship, and an almost ethereal portrayal of the countryside.

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What started out as a ‘chilly splatter’ blown in on freshening breeze has become an endless deluge spreading across burrow walls, soaking bedding and turning floors to mud… the adult voles on the Wetted Land believe their river god Sinethis is ‘drinking from the sky.’

Youngsters Kale and Strife are excited by the unexpected arrival of their favourite uncle Sylvan but he has come to warn the vole family before it’s too late to escape.

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Little do Kale and Strife realise it but soon they will be running for their lives as a new danger threatens to destroy everything and everyone they care about. They will need all their strength and courage to survive the journey into the unknown. But the shadows are full of enemies, and still more surprises lie in wait … will they ever make it back home again?

The Rising shows us nature in its stark ‘red in tooth and claw’ reality, a place where staying alive is a constant battle and where animals must work together to build homes, protect their young and evade their many predators.

But above all, it delivers a beautiful, uplifting story full of excitement, lyricism and peril, and allows children a glimpse of Britain’s amazing but ever-shrinking colony of water voles whose future survival constantly hangs in the balance.

An exceptional series from an exceptional author…

(OUP, hardback, £10.99)

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

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Lewis Carroll’s timeless adventures featuring Alice’s bizarre journey down a rabbit hole are just one of the latest range of Oxford Children’s Classics published this month.

These appealing and educational new editions give a contemporary look and feel to much-loved stories which have stood the test of time. All the books are unabridged and feature additional materials including reviews, author background, activities, quizzes and book recommendations from young Oxford Children’s Classics Champions.

And what better introduction to the classics than the irrepressible Alice who finds wonder, adventure, confusion, madness, mayhem and cake on her journey underground?

It’s a story that plays cleverly with logic ensuring a lasting popularity with adults as well as with children. The famous narrative course and structure, characters and imagery have been hugely influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.

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Youngsters will love joining Alice as she tumbles into a strange world where curious things are normal and normal things are ‘curiouser.’ There is the chance to marvel at the classic nonsense poem The Jabberwocky and join in with Tweedledum and Tweedledee’s brilliant ode The Walrus and the Carpenter.

The book features both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in one edition and helps younger readers to discover a fantastical adventure that has captured imaginations since the originals were published in 1865 and 1872 respectively.

The perfect start to a lifetime of reading…

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 8 plus:

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends, and Football by Dave Cousins

No footie-mad child will want to miss out on this all-action, fun and frantic story about a group of loveable pals whose goal is to be the best soccer team in town.

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Whether they reach the top of their disaster-strewn but beautiful game, and keep the newly formed North Star Galaxy team of tearaways on side, is all part of the fun.

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Children’s author Dave Cousins has a habit of writing novels full of humour and the surreal, and here he works his magic on a footballing tale of our times featuring a crazy but charismatic group of kids who seem fated to be losers but still win everyone’s hearts.

‘I play for North Star Galaxy and this is the story of our first season. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I hope it will be at the World Cup Finals this summer! I’m going to tell you everything that happens – the truth – however painful that might be.’

So begins Charlie Merrick’s story… he loves football, he watches it, memorises facts about it and he’s even captain of the local youth team, North Star Galaxy.

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When Charlie discovers that youth teams are being selected to play in exhibition matches at the World Cup tournament later in the year, he decides to enter North Star Galaxy Under-12s. There’s just one problem. He’s got to prove that North Star deserve a place at the tournament and that’s not easy when your team are rubbish at football!

Written in the form of Charlie’s competition entry for his team to play the exhibition match, Cousins’ brilliant book is crammed with lively, eye-catching illustrations, comic strips, interactive match reports. Add to this a dynamic and loveable hero and fast-moving, hilarious storylines and you have a book perfectly football-pitched for sporty kids and reluctant readers.

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These are football stars that every child can relate to… their triumphs, their disasters, their dreams, their nightmares and their moving moments of unexpected success.

A top team for all young football fans …

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Lock away your mixing bowl, hide the baking tins and starting weighing up the enemy… killer cupcakes, batty Battenbergs and marauding muffins!

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Yes, writing legend Philip Reeve and his picture perfect partner Sarah McIntyre are back with another amazing adventure packed with eccentric characters and zany humour.

The creators of the much-acclaimed Oliver and the Seawigs have cooked up a delicious concoction of food and fun with their new book, Cakes in Space, a jammy dodger journey into the unknown with time-travelling, galaxy girl Astra.

Astra and family are all snoring in their sleeping pods aboard their spaceship and heading for a new life on the faraway planet Nova Mundi.

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But Astra is actually wide awake and along with her robot friend Pilbeam, she goes off exploring only to discover that the ship is in deep trouble. It has been knocked off course and invaded by a gang of Poglites, an alien salvage crew searching for spoonage (they just love collecting spoons!).

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However, even the Poglites need Astra’s help when they discover something far more sinister lurking in the canteen. They’re cakes but no one would ever describe these cakey monstrosities as sweet.

Now Astra and Pilbeam are the only ones standing in the way of the ship’s destruction…

Cakes in Space, featuring pages of Reeve’s laugh-out-loud escapades and an eye-catching riot of two-tone illustrative colour from the pen of Sarah McIntyre, offers a visual and narrative feast for children aged seven and over.

So why not jet off into space… and live to tell the terrific tale!

(OUP, hardback, £8.99)

Age 2 plus:

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What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele, George David Weiss and Tim Hopgood

Louis Armstrong famously sang about our wonderful world and now illustrator Tim Hopgood puts his evocative words into pictures.

Get ready to sing along as this big, beautiful book – inspired by Hopgood’s first encounter with Armstrong’s recording of the song at the tender age of six – gives the memorable music the pictorial accompaniment it has long deserved.

With a CD of the original song included (plus helpful audible page-turn signals), What a Wonderful World celebrates the warmth, timelessness and message of hope in Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’ 1967 hit.

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Hopgood’s exciting, painterly illustrations bring us an adventurous little boy who sets off on a journey of discovery and along the way finds the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night and the others wonders of his amazing world.

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The book also includes an exclusive reading by actress and TV presenter Sophie Aldred and Hopgood’s own explanation about why the lyrics made such a huge impression on him and how he set out to capture the joy of the song in pictures.

A gorgeous book just made for sharing – and with a warm-hearted message that encourages children to appreciate the wonders of nature, friendship and love.

(OUP, hardback and CD, £12.99)

The Adventures of Mr Toad by Tom Moorhouse and David Roberts

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Take to the road with Mr Toad and enjoy a brilliant picture book adventure with the animal gang from Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic book The Wind in the Willows.

David Roberts’ enchanting illustrations of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad brim with life and vigour while talented children’s author Tom Moorhouse provides a fun and sparkling new story in the spirit of the original.

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Little ones will be entranced by the antics of the animal friends as they try to persuade an over-ambitious Mr Toad that his plans are ridiculously unworkable but are right by his side when he needs them to save his famous Toad Hall from an invasion by fearsome stoats.

Moorhouse lovingly recreates Grahame’s cast of charismatic characters for younger children and includes plenty of humour, adventure and rhymes as well as important lessons about the true value of friendship.

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You can never be too young to get to know Mole, Ratty, Badger and the incredible Mr Toad!

(OUP, hardback, £9.99)

You Make Me Smile by Layn Marlow

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without snow… so if the white stuff fails to make an appearance, let your child get lost in the winter wonderland of Layn Marlow’s cuddly, comfortable story.

You Make Me Smile is a snow-filled story guaranteed to melt the stoniest of hearts and enrapture young readers.

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It’s the first snowfall of winter and a little girl is filled with that sense of wonder we all experience when the world turns white. She builds a snowman and gives him a twig smile so that they may share a moment of happiness and know the promise of a friendship that will be renewed each year. Marlow’s story focuses on the bonds of love and friendship, hopes of renewal and the pleasure we can give to each other with just a smile, ideal messages for the Christmas season.

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With illustrations, stunning in their simplicity and overflowing with warmth, we experience a whole gamut of sensations and emotions from cold hands to warm smiles.

A tender-hearted story to banish the cold…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)