“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms”
– Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and political activist
In the spirit of season, here are Twelve Books for Christmas for the children in your lives—from the Santa-believers to the scientists, the fantasists to the crafty, and the lovers of adventure whatever their ages.
PRE & EARLY READERS (AGES 3 TO 8)
Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park, Illustrations by Matt Phelan
Xander the Panda is planning a Panda party but when he realises that he is the only Panda at the zoo he decides to invite the other bears too. As news of the party spreads through the zoo, Xander adds the mammals, the birds and the reptiles to the invitation list until suddenly he finds that everyone is invited. Oh no! thinks Xander, but thanks to his new friend Amanda Salamander, a party for one turns into fun for everyone.
Linda Sue Park is a Newberry medallist who mixes in plenty of animal facts in this engaging lyrical story. The ink and watercolour images by Matt Phelan were inspired by hours at the Philadelphia Zoo. The result is a colourful, playful story for pre-schoolers and early readers alike.
The Naughtiest Reindeer by Nicki Greenberg
Australian writer and illustrator Nicki Greenberg has Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer laid up in bed with a terrible cold on Christmas Eve. In desperation, Santa must let Rudolf’s silly, flighty, naughty sister Ruby light the way instead. But Ruby is soon bored of waiting around on rooftops whilst Santa delivers presents and eats cookies and decides to escape. A flustered Santa returns to the North Pole not realising he has forgotten to deliver the presents to one house. Mrs Claus must save the day with only hours before the children wake up!
Told in rhyme and coupled with bright, cheery illustrations, this is a busy book which works well as a read-alone book for early and independent readers but, because of the rhyme, it is a great read-aloud book too. Not at all cheesy, The Naughtiest Reindeer is definitely a great choice for a Christmassy title.
Octopus’s Garden by Ringo Starr, Illustrations by Ben Cort
This perennial favourite is given a new lease of life with the packaging of a CD featuring Ringo Starr so that everyone can sing along with the great man himself.
Ben Cort’s illustrations are divine—imaginative, vibrant and incredibly detailed and Ringo even gives a reading as well.
Wonderfully interactive and perfect for making your younger readers bop around the lounge—mine certainly did—several times!
MIDDLE READERS (AGES 8 TO 12)
Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman
When their mum goes away on a business trip and leaves dad in charge, the last and most important thing she tells him is that they are almost out of milk. The next morning dad goes down to the corner shop to buy milk and takes forever. On his eventual return, the children ask him what took him so long, and dad embarks on a fantastical tale involving snot-gobbly space aliens who want to redecorate the planet, Professor Steg and her Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier, two-headed pirates, wumpires, talking ponies and a galactic police force made up entirely of dinosaurs. As dad travels backwards and forwards through time, he swears he only has one mission—to get home to his children so they can have milk on their cereal.
Neil Gaiman channels Dr Who and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in this zany adventure. Amazing illustrations by Chris Riddell add an extra giggle factor as he brings to life a gallery of characters such as Mad Matilda the Girl Buccaneer and Splod the God of People with Short Funny Names. Popping this under the Christmas tree will bring guaranteed adoration from the middle reader in your life.
The Kensington Reptilarium by N.J. Gemmell
Kick, Scruff, Bert and Pin’s dad is always off on adventures to exotic places like the jungles of Borneo, Ceylon or Paris leaving Kick and her younger siblings running amok on their homestead 300 miles from Alice Springs. But this Christmas, father does not come home and the four children find they are faced with a terrible choice—an orphanage or living with some relative they have never heard of, Uncle Basti, at the Kensington Reptilarium in war-torn London.
Confronted by a sign that says, ENTER AT OWN RISK, DEATH MAY FOLLOW, the four children are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lifetimes and if they are very lucky, their biggest Christmas wish may come true.
Nikki Gemmell has written a wonderful tale reminiscent of The Famous Five or The Railway Children. She channels all that is nostalgically great about those kinds of children’s books—where four rough and ready heroes take on the world and win— and given it a modern twist. This will be a definite hit with the chapter book readers in your life and a great read aloud choice for their younger siblings.
The True Meaning of SmekDay by Adam Rex
Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci finds herself on the road with her cat Pig and a Boov called J.Lo after the Boovs invade Earth on Christmas Day—now renamed Smekday.
Since the human race has inconveniently refused to assimilate, the Boovs have had them sign a treaty handing over the Earth, turned the state of Florida into a Reservation and sent the humans to live there. Her mum has been sucked up by the Boov after being mole-marked and forced to do laundry so Gratuity, an eighth grader of tremendous resourcefulness and spunk, sets off on one of the most hilarious road trips ever encountered. Can Tip, Pig and J.Lo rescue her mum and save the world from another alien invasion from the terrifying Gorgs?
A delightful, quirky and exceptionally entertaining blend of prose, graphics and cartoon, which should make be a winner with mature independent readers.
YOUNG ADULT (AGES 12 TO 18)
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud
A.J. Lockwood & Co. Investigators are one of a small handful of firms that specialise in hunting ghosts. In the last 50 years, London has become overcrowded with these Visitors who are invading the houses of the city adding up to what is euphemistically called, the Problem.
Mrs Hope, whose husband suffered a mysterious and brutal fall down the stairs resulting in his death, calls in Anthony Lockwood and his young sidekick Lucy Carlyle.
Unfortunately, in the process of ridding her residence of a particularly violent ghost, Lucy accidentally burns Mrs Hope’s house to the ground. Already running the business on the smell of an oily rag, Lockwood & Co have one chance to redeem their reputation and their finances—to this end, they must spend the night in the most haunted house in the whole of England and hope they escape with their lives.
Lots of old school fun in this new series for older primary and younger teen readers. Ghosts, feisty heroes and a liberal sprinkling of humour makes this an adventure worth reading by torchlight under the covers—as many a young reader will be tempted to do.
Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Boy is the son of Frankenstein’s monster and his Bride. The family live under a New York City theatre along with all a range mythical creatures and monsters from Medusa and the Minotaur to the bratty Shaun the Faun. At night they put on a show for the humans who flock to see them and by day they hide in the catacombs they have built beneath the city.
17 year old Boy is not part of the show, rather he spends his days in internet chat rooms or working on his pet project—creating a computer virus that can think for itself. When his parents reveal they intend to send Boy to live with the Frankensteins in Switzerland so he can attend the University of Geneva, Boy freaks. He has only been Outside once, but he cannot bear the thought of having to live with the Frankensteins and decides to take his destiny into his own hands. Boy runs away, with his favourite computer and the precious virus, and finds the real world can be scarier than a whole theatre full of monsters.
Skovoron exploration of the transition from boyhood to manhood is both compassionate and funny. Who hasn’t felt like a geek, a monster or a misfit? Who hasn’t felt like running away or that no one understands us. And of course, running away often isn’t the solution and nor is it for Boy. Hooking up with the granddaughters of Jekyll and Hyde makes for a hilarious adventure but in the end, Boy must face his parents and a few home truths. A totally delightful and richly imagined tale.
Wide Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Seventeen year old Kiri Byrd is left home alone as her parents take off on a cruise to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It gives her plenty of time to practice for the International Young Pianists’ Showcase, that is, when she is not hanging out in the divine Lukas’ basement rehearsing for the semi-finals of the Battle of the Bands.
The next few weeks are perfectly planned until Kiri receives a phone call from a strange man who claims to have some belongings her dead sister had left behind in her artist’s studio. Riding downtown to meet with him, Kiri wonders what Sukey could have left behind, hopes it is some of her amazing paintings, but finds out that there is an awful lot Kiri doesn’t know about Sukey’s life. And that their mother and father have told Kiri a completely different story about how her older sister died.
This is a real page turner that blends the joy of a summer of love and music on the cusp of adulthood with the terrible truths wrought by tragic loss. Definitely one for the older teens as there is some drug usage and more mature themes. Give them Wild Awake for Christmas and they may not leave their bedroom for a day or two, but at least you’ll know why. Once you start reading this cracker of a debut, it’s very hard to put down.
How To Make Small Things With Violet Mackerel by Anna Bradford, Illustrations by Sarah Davis
Writer Anna Branford has put together this delightfully whimsical craft book as a companion piece to her hugely successful Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot. It’s all about small things—to wear, to use or to give. Amongst the collection are a sunshine ring, a note book and hair slides. Rather than giving the crafty child in your life a present with a lot of annoying beady bits that end up sucked up the tube of the vacuum cleaner, this is a book of ideas. Simply explained, clearly and beautifully drawn and illustrated by Sarah Davis, this little book is a gem.
For my money, it is for about ages 7 if they have good fine motor skills and patience, up to about 11. Buy some felt and a few of the bits and bobs itemised in the book, and your crafty one will be well set to while away a few holiday hours.
Dr Karl’s Big Book of Science Stuff & Nonsense by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki
Drawings, puzzles, quizzes , poetry (?), experiments and word games on all the important subjects from Space, the Human Body, Dinosaurs, Bugs—in fact all creatures big and small from under the sea, to high in the sky plus everything else in between.
This is the perfect present for the curious kids, bored kids, kids on road trips or kids stuck inside on a rainy day.
Ages 7 to 11 will love this offering from Australia’s favourite oddball scientist and they probably won’t even notice that they are learning something!
The Journey by Coral Tulloch
Part story, part fantastical adventure, The Journey is as interactive as a child can get without a computer in front of them (Thank Goodness! I hear you cry.)
To make The Journey, your child will need a pencil, something to count with such as buttons, dice, a small coin, spare paper and a wonderful imagination. Armed with this vital equipment, that can join their guide Bernard on an adventure of their very own making.
What makes The Journey even more appealing is that no matter how many times they play the game, there is always a different outcome.
Coral Tulloch created a syndicated page for children that ran for over 20 years and has illustrated over 50 children’s books. With The Journey, she has created a book that is a visual treat blending information, story and entertainment. The over 8s will be over the moon with this treasure of a book although the appeal will definitely creep into the younger teen market too.
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*Meredith Jaffé is a writer, avid reader and The Hoopla’s books editor. Her reviews have been featured in the NSW Writers’ Centre 366 Days of Writing and in 2013 she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards. When she is avoiding work, she cooks, plays Scrabble online or occasionally updates her Facebook page.