Special children’s books from Macmillan put magic into Christmas by various authors - book reviews -

Meet a guardian angel imparting love and kindness, spread your wings for a sky-high adventure, enjoy a thrilling rainforest mystery, and join a mouse for lots of creative Christmas fun in a fantastic festive gift selection from Macmillan Children’s Books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 28th October 2021, 12:30 pm
Grace and the Christmas Angel
Grace and the Christmas Angel

Age 3 plus:

Grace and the Christmas Angel

Lucinda Riley, Harry Whittaker and Jane Ray

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If your best-laid plans for Christmas are in danger of falling apart, take inspiration and comfort from a beautiful illustrated story by mother and son partnership, bestselling novelist Lucinda Riley and award-winning BBC radio presenter Harry Whittaker.

This brand new Guardian Angel series – packed with the colourful and evocative illustrations of the talented Jane Ray – was devised by Harry and Lucinda before she sadly died in June this year, and is another ongoing, golden legacy of her enormous output of work.

And this first book in the series – a stunning gift-edition, gold-foiled hardback, complete with an angel ribbon marker – delivers a reassuring story rooted in modern life but with an ethereal and nostalgic charm, celebrating the close bonds of family, and packed with timeless messages about love, hope, comfort and belief.

It’s Christmas Eve. The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped and it’s a big day for Grace, who lives in a town by the sea. She is singing a song in the nativity show and her fisherman daddy has promised to be back in time to watch her. But when a storm blows up at sea, Grace walks out on stage to find Daddy is not there. She’s very worried but luckily, Grace has someone watching over her. Will Hope, the Christmas Angel, be able to help Daddy get home safely for Christmas morning?

The magic of Christmas and the joys of community, friendship and family speak volumes in this warm-hearted tale… perfect for seasonal giving.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Boy With Wings

Lenny Henry and Keenon Ferrell

Spread your wings for a sky-high adventure with an extraordinary hero in a funny and acutely perceptive middle-grade novel from comedian, writer, philanthropist and award-winning actor Lenny Henry. Co-founder of Comic Relief, Sir Lenny is a strong advocate for diversity and he teams up here with illustrator Keenon Ferrell for a story that speaks loudly in multicultural Britain. Ordinary kid Tunde is about to become an extraordinary hero! Wings? Check. A super-cool, super-secret past? Check. An impossible mission to save the world from a fur-ocious enemy? Check. When Tunde sprouts wings and learns he’s all that stands between Earth and total destruction, suddenly school is the least of his problems. Luckily, his rag-tag group of pals have got his back and with his new powers, Tunde is ready to fly in the face of danger. So what if he can’t even stand up to the school bully? He’s the boy with wings… this is his destiny. No pressure then! Filled with Sir Lenny’s trademark wit and sense of fun, but also with his empathy and keen eye for the concerns of minority ethnic groups, this is a wonderfully inclusive story that will have youngsters giggling and guffawing from first page to last. And as an added bonus, readers can enjoy an exclusive comic book adventure illustrated by Marvel artist Mark Buckingham.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Journey to the River Sea

Eva Ibbotson and Katie Hickey

Escape the autumn winds and rain with a thrilling rainforest adventure that is guaranteed to turn up the heat for young readers. This beautiful, 20th anniversary, jacketed gift edition of Eva Ibbotson’s award-winning classic tale set in Brazil’s Amazon – packed with the fabulous colour illustrations of Katie Hickey – is the ideal introduction to a writer who had the power to transport youngsters to faraway places. Ibbotson moved to England from Vienna with her father in 1925 to flee the Nazis and died in 2010, by which time her imaginative and humorous books had won prizes and the hearts of adoring fans. In Journey to the River Sea, we meet Maia, an orphan, who can’t wait to reach her distant relatives a thousand miles up the Amazon. She imagines a loving family with whom she will share great adventures but instead she finds two spiteful cousins who see the jungle as the enemy. Fortunately, the wonders of the rainforest more than make up for the hideous twins. And when Maia meets a mysterious boy who lives alone on the wild river shores, she begins a spectacular journey to the heart of an extraordinary new world. Escapist storytelling at its best… and a book to love, share and treasure.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £20)

Age 7 plus:

The 143-Storey Treehouse: Camping Hoots and Soggy Boots

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

The ‘wizards of Oz’ are back with their incredible, ever-expanding treehouse and this time it has an incredible 143 storeys! Australian writer and illustrator team – Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton – have turned their zany adventure stories, featuring two young would-be publishing sensations (unsurprisingly called Andy and Terry!), into a real-life reading phenomenon. The success of the Treehouse series just won’t stop growing and the amazing creators are climbing higher than high in the bestseller lists with these wild and wacky, highly illustrated, laugh-out-loud books packed with hilarious antics, jokes and cartoons. So climb the new storeys and discover a word-o-matic, a wrecking ball, a deep, dark cave with a fire-breathing dragon and a spooky graveyard (where it’s always midnight). And as Andy has been a bit stressed, Terry has decided the perfect way for them to relax is to head up to their new camping ground level for a much-needed holiday. But it turns out to be not quite as relaxing as Terry planned! Easy-to-read, visually exciting and wonderfully entertaining, the pace is fast and the fun never stops. So what are you waiting for? Climb each level in fits of laughter in this glittering, blue-foiled hardback edition which is ideal for Christmas gifting. Guaranteed to get even the most reluctant readers begging for more!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature

Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls

Dig out your hat and scarf, pull on your walking boots and take a wild, wandering and fascinating journey into the great outdoors. With award-winning young activist and conservationist Dara McAnulty as your guide, this wonderful gift book – brimming with amazing facts and fabulous illustrations by talented artist Barry Falls – is the perfect walking companion. The fully colour illustrated book opens in the author’s own back garden and takes us into the hills, woods and ponds, pointing out his own favourite animals and flora and fauna, all elements that fascinated him when he was a child. McAnulty pauses to tell you about each habitat and how to explore it, and provides fantastic facts about the native birds, animals and plants you will find there, and there are activities to enjoy when you get home… plant wild flowers, make a bird feeder, try pond dipping, make a journey stick and build a terrarium. The ideal way to let children experience for themselves the joy of connecting with the natural world and to do their bit to help save our planet.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

How Winston Came Home for Christmas

Alex T. Smith

Here’s a very special gift book that offers both brilliant storytelling and a sackful of creative Christmas activities! Writer and illustrator Alex T. Smith is back with a return visit into the action-packed life of Winston the mouse for more storytelling, adventure and creativity in his festive sequel to the much-loved How Winston Delivered Christmas. Innovative and entertaining, How Winston Came Home for Christmas is written in 24½ chapters… one to share every day leading up to Christmas, and with each chapter featuring its own Christmas activities for families and friends to make together. It’s five days until Christmas and Winston has a mystery to solve. He has hazy memories of another mouse and he knows that someone very important to him is lost. After promising Oliver that he will be back in time for Christmas, no matter what, Winston sets out on an exciting round-the-world adventure to find the missing mouse, helped along the way by wonderful old friends and delightful new ones too. Like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, each day also features festive things to make and do… you can make decorations and Christmas food, and discover Christmas traditions from around the world. With bright, bold illustrations, a foiled cover, and ribbon marker, and lovingly wrapped in the author’s natural warmth and insight into what makes Christmas exciting for children, this wonderful book is destined to become a family favourite in the run-up to Christmas.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

Constance in Peril

Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark

The great outdoors poses untold hidden dangers for a rag doll called Constance Hardpenny in a funny and exquisitely written and wrought picture book from author Ben Manley and much-loved illustrator Emma Chichester Clark. This is the exciting pairing that brought young readers the highly acclaimed The Misadventures of Frederick and the top team work their magic again on a delightfully playful story which blends vintage charm with a free-spirited, modern and youthful zest to deliver a picture book full of heartfelt messages about the joys of childhood, play and sibling loyalty. Edward’s favourite toy is old cloth doll Constance who was rescued from a rubbish bin but is still prey to potentially catastrophic incidents like being forgotten and left out in the rain, trapped up a tree, and even being caught in the jaws of the neighbour’s dog! Fortunately she is rescued each time by the watchful Grace, Edward’s loving older sister, but is Constance doomed to suffer a life of never-ending peril? Probably! Shared adventure, experiences and endeavour all play a part in this playful and witty story which has been beautifully created against a nostalgic rural backdrop, and is a vibrant and timely reminder that youth is there to be enjoyed to the full.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Fire Fox

Alexandra Page and Stef Murphy

Colour me blue this Christmas! Get ready for a feast of rainbow magic, wild beauty and words of comfort and gentle joy in an outstanding picture book that was just made sharing at bedtime on cold winter nights. Exciting debut author Alexandra Page teams up with talented illustrator Stef Murphy for a moving tale of love and loss inspired by the Finnish Saami myth of the revontulet, or fox fires… the sparks that fly from the fur of a mystical fox to become the Northern Lights. Freya and her mum have gone to a little cabin to get away for a while. The light has gone out of their lives since Freya’s dad died. Freya isn’t sure about going sledging, but when she meets a magical fox in the snow, she can’t help but follow him into the forest and on to a thrilling adventure. Filled with compassion and empathy, The Fire Fox is a touching and timely reminder of the nurturing light of love that can never be dimmed and the solace to be found in remembrance and acceptance. Add on a silver-foiled cover and Murphy’s exquisite artwork, and you have the perfect Christmas gift book.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Fly, Fly, Fly Your Sleigh

John Hay and Garry Parsons

It can’t be true, can it… is Santa refusing to deliver the presents this year? Have fun, laughs and plenty of happy refrains with a merry, madcap Christmas caper from debut picture book author John Hay and Garry Parsons, illustrator of the smash-hit Dinosaur that Pooped series written by McFly’s Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter. Packed with brilliantly funny rhymes, inspired by the much-loved song Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and accompanied by Parsons’ bold and anarchic illustrations, we head off to the North Pole on Christmas Eve and find all is not well in Santa’s workshop. The elves are hard at work but Santa is fed up and doesn’t want to deliver the presents. The elves are determined to cheer Santa up with some jolly songs… starting with Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and moving on to classics such as Hang, Hang, Hang Your Socks and Peel, Peel, Peel the Sprouts. But can they get Santa smiling again and on to his sleigh in time? Perfect for sharing in the run-up to Christmas, children will love joining in the familiar tune and singing along with the elves… and they can even make up their own funny Christmas rhymes. Comedy jingles all the way!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Robin Robin

Daniel Ojari, Mikey Please and Briony May Smith

Oh crumbs… here’s a beautiful, imaginative and simply irresistible book set to become a favourite with families everywhere! Daniel Ojari and Mikey Please’s heartwarming and utterly delightful story of a robin adopted by a family of mice was inspired by the Christmas film created by Aardman for Netflix and has been fabulously illustrated by Briony May Smith whose work is inspired by fairy tales and rural folklore. Robin is so keen to fit in with the mice that she fluffs her feathers into ears. But nothing can make a noisy, clumsy bird good at sneaking crumbs… especially when the dreaded cat is one the prowl! Yet Robin is determined and, with the help of a friendly magpie, she finds her own way to succeed, learning that she can be true to her own bird self and a loved member of the mouse family. No child will be able to resist this warm and funny tale, brought to glorious life by Smith’s gallery of adorable, eye-catching and colourful illustrations. Guaranteed to capture the hearts of readers young and old!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Squirrel’s Snowman

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The award- winning Julia Donaldson- Axel Scheffler team are back with an adorable new story in their much-loved Tales from Acorn Wood series starring a group of furry favourites. Toddlers can get to know the woodland friends and join in the gentle fun of their adventures with these foiled, hard-wearing lift-the flap books featuring Scheffler’s bold and colourful illustrations and Donaldson’s simple, appealing story full of warmth and friendship. Here we find it snowing in Acorn Wood where Squirrel wants to build a snowman. Will she and her friends find everything they need to build it? There are surprises on every page as little ones open the flaps and doors in this wintry tale, and make their own discoveries whilst learning the joys of books, playtime and reading.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, board book, £6.99)