Book reviews: Enjoy the countdown to Christmas with Usborne

Sail into Christmas on a raft of festive reads as Santa’s top team at Usborne weigh anchor with their glittering cargo.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 7th December 2015, 9:00 am
Enjoy the countdown to Christmas with Usborne
Enjoy the countdown to Christmas with Usborne

The UK’s biggest and most successful independent children’s book publisher, Usborne has Christmas all wrapped up with a host of exciting activity books, a stableful of inventive gifts and a five-star package of heart-warming novels.

Discover the magic of a colour-in advent calendar, help to dress teddies for a special festive party, design your very own fashion collection or head off to sea with a schoolboy in search of family love.

Age 7 plus:

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Sticker Dolly Dressing Design Studio Fashion

Here’s a stylish gift for all budding fashionistas… a complete fashion design studio in a box!

This clever box of tricks has everything fashion fans need to develop an eye for good style, design their own clothes and accessories, and turn sticker dollies into the queens of the catwalk.

Create new looks with a book full of dolls to dress, durable plastic stencils and sheets of patterned paper to cut out. There are lots of sticker-clothes to add (including some to colour yourself), transfers to add finishing touches, pens and lots of hints and tips on how to design a collection.

Budding fashion designers can create stunning outfits using the stencils and patterned paper, then add sticker accessories such as shoes and handbags, and rub on transfers for dangly earrings and hair accessories to add the finishing touches.

There are over 200 stickers, 25 sheets of patterned paper, three stencils, over 100 rub-down transfers, a pink pen, a fine-line black pen and a special book to inspire you to create your own designs.

A fabulous fashion wardrobe at your fingertips…

(Usborne, book and fashion kit, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

Advent calendar to colour by Stella Baggott

Get your crayons ready for some colouring action with this super, fun-filled, fold-out calendar.

Advent is an open-and-shut adventure with this inventive calendar featuring a black and white street scene which allows children to colour a section each day in the exciting countdown to Christmas Day.

And when the colouring is done, open up the doors and windows to see what’s underneath and spot the friendly army of mice who are all getting ready for Christmas.

Children can stand up the specially folded and sturdy book to create an eye-catching tableau of the festive scene with its window displays full of Christmas goodies or simply store it away on a shelf like a book.

Ingeniously interactive and delightfully different, this is an enchanting way for children to herald the season of giving and goodwill.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)Age 3 plus:

Dress the Teddy Bears for Christmas Sticker Book by Felicity Brooks and Ag Jatkowska

Ready, teddy, go… it’s Christmas!

The best dressed teddies in town need a helping hand with their Christmas wardrobe.

Whether they are playing out, getting ready for bed or going shopping, these busy little teddies want to wear the perfect winter outfit.

Festive fun begins here in a super sticker book that lets youngsters to pick the right clothes for the right occasion. There are over 250 stickers in this colourful book which encourages little ones to think about choosing the correct clothing for different events and activities.

The gorgeous gallery of stickers also provides opportunities for them to practise fine motor skills as they choose and place the stickers on the teddies. And the array of super stickers are specially designed for little hands and fingers to handle.There are hours of entertainment for pre-schoolers who can peel off the stickers and dress the teddies in their best outfits for a

Christmas party, outdoor gear to keep them warm and dry as they play in the snow and aprons for Christmas baking.

The perfect gift for your smart little dressers…

(Usborne, paperback, £4.99)

Age 5 plus:

Christmas Magic Painting Book by Fiona Watt and Erica Harrison

What child can resist the magic of a magic painting book that captures all the sparkle of Christmas?

All you need is water and the brush provided, and then abracadabra, marvel as the festive-themed black and white pages turn into a rainbow gallery of vibrant pictures including a gingerbread cottage, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and Father Christmas and his reindeer. Enjoy the look of amazement on the faces of your little ones when they use the

special brush to paint water over the illustrations and the colours are magically revealed. From snowmen and candles to penguins and angels, the black and white illustrations are transformed in seconds. And a laminated flap to place behind your work stops paint seeping through to the next page and ensures perfect results every time.

This stylish, user-friendly version of the magic painting books we all remember guarantees fun for creative kids and is perfect for harassed parents looking for a mess-free activity in the busy run-up to Christmas.

The magic of Christmas at the stroke of a brush!

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair by Lara Williamson

Prepare to laugh, cry and simply marvel at a tale beautifully told as talented children’s author Lara Williamson sets sail on an extraordinary odyssey.

This gorgeous, tear-jerking story of love, loss, dreams and finding your way has a young, troubled boy at its heart and weaves together an extraordinary blend of emotional intensity, worldly wisdom and laugh-out-loud humour.

Williamson’s A Boy Called Hope was a standout debut in 2014 and her new novel captures the same spirit of love, warmth, wisdom, understanding and eternal optimism.

Eleven-year-old Becket Rumsey’s real mum died when she went into hospital to have his little brother Billy. Becket never said goodbye to her and not being able to talk to her is still ‘the hardest thing.’ Fortunately, dad’s girlfriend Pearl is good at listening and loves Becket and Billy ‘to the moon and back.’

But now Becket is all at sea. It’s 11.30 at night at the beginning of half term and he and Billy are sitting in their dad’s fish delivery van outside a hair salon. Dad has run away with them, leaving everything behind, including Pearl, and plans to live in the flat over the hairdresser’s.

Becket has no idea what’s going on, it’s all a mystery, and more than anything he wants to go back home to Pearl and tell her that dad has ‘lost his marbles.’ Besides, he doesn’t want to ‘not say goodbye to someone so important for the second time in his life.’

So with the help of Billy and a snail called Brian, Becket sets out on a journey of discovery. It’s not easy for him, and there are some surprises along the way, but then what journeys ever are plain sailing?

The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair speaks loudly to children about the importance of love and family, the promise of new beginnings and learning that goodbye isn’t always the end.

A moving and soulful story just perfect for the Christmas season…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

100 Things to Know About Science

Usborne knows a thing or two about making learning fun… and science is definitely not boring in this engaging exploration of what makes the world around us tick.

Science, we all know, is a huge topic but this child-friendly book breaks it down into bite-sized chunks, making it an accessible and inspiring introduction to one of the most important subjects in the school curriculum.

Packed with colourful illustrations, in a pictorial ‘infographics’ style, the snippets of fascinating information cover all aspects of science, from particle physics to genes and DNA, in a lively and stimulating format.

Amongst the science world gems laid out here, youngsters will be amazed to learn that atoms are not the smallest things that exist, all mechanical devices are based on six simple machines, for every person on Earth there are at least 200 million insects and that 50 billion cells in your body self-destruct every day.

How many will know that Marie Curie, who came up with theory of radioactivity, was killed by her own discovery, that when house flies buzz they always produce the musical note F, that your nose can detect up to a trillion different smells, that butterflies and bees drink crocodile tears and that every year Arctic terns fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again?

Each page introduces the science behind something familiar, from the Earth’s magnetic pole to seeds, spider venom and static electricity, making it the ideal book for beginner readers with an interest in science.

And for those hungry to learn more, there are internet links to specially selected websites where children can watch online experiments, answer fun quiz questions and discover more surprising science facts.

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 12 plus:

Deep Water by Lu Hersey

Lu Hersey digs deep into the exciting mysteries of Celtic myth and folklore in a stunning debut novel that is guaranteed to bewitch, bother and bewilder.

Alive with ancient systems of ritual, magic and pagan belief, Deep Water blends a gentle but compelling modern day romance with an enigmatic storyline that uses the legends of Britain’s pre-history as its thrilling backdrop.

At the heart of this beautifully imagined and highly atmospheric foray into myth and magic is a teenage girl whose incredible, hidden gifts put a curse on both herself and those she loves.

When her mum goes missing, 15-year-old Danni Lancaster immediately senses that something is wrong, seriously wrong. Left alone at home, she has no choice but to go and live with her ‘hippy’ dad in a remote Cornish fishing village, miles away from her friends.

But when she arrives, complete strangers seem to recognise and shun her, crossing themselves in a bid to ward off some unseen evil or curse. And then strange things start to happen… salt-water seeps through her hands and her dreams become nightmares.

Soon her nightmares begin to reflect reality, and Danni discovers that she is not entirely who – or even what – she had always assumed. The village has a dark and disturbing past, one that she is somehow connected to. With the help of Elliot, a boy who works in her dad’s shop, and her friend Levi from home, she sets out to discover the truth and save her mother.

But Danni’s journey is far more dangerous than anything she could have imagined as she comes up against people who would prefer to see her – and all her kind – wiped off the face of the earth…

Hersey, a self-confessed fan of ‘the old ways’ which remain a vibrant part of Celtic folklore, works some real magic of her own in an intriguing story which weaves legend and reality, good and evil, belief and suspicion with such seductive charm.

Deep Water is a resonant tale of tolerance, elemental power and the importance of learning lessons from our ancestors… only by getting close to nature and understanding the past can we accept those sometimes unexplained events in our present.

An original, captivating and thought-provoking debut…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)