Book browsing in a bookshop is as much an art as it is a way of life. Here is my trawl through some rather beautiful children’s books, with delighted thanks to Hatchards and Waterstones Piccadilly, for being not only shops but especially worlds of books, with wonderfully rich departments dedicated specifically to children.
Seasonal hamper essentials
The Twelve Days of Christmas by William Morris
illustrated by Liz Catchpole (Penguin/V&A)
Gorgeously illustrated, a feast for all the senses. To be indulged in during advent as well as post-Boxing Day.
Moomin Diary 2017 illustrated by Tove Jansson (Flame Tree)
A desk diary for all Moomin lovers of all ages in search of a new secret door to that realm of yearned-for calmness.
A Pandora’s Box for curious minds
A Sea Voyage: A pop-up Story about all sorts of Boats
by Gérard Lo Monaco
(Thames & Hudson)
Open up any of these stunningly illustrated and constructed pages, and you will be sailing away at full steam. Beautiful, informative, a book to lose oneself in.
A First Book of Nature and A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld and Petr Horacek
Two books that will mark young lives, books to be explored, devoured on an elderly lap, or to be secretly indulged sprawled on one’s tummy on the floor. You may be tempted to decorate your walls with Mark Hearld’s iconic prints, you will certainly fall in love with every animal, fish or fowl on these pages. Two books for keeps, to be passed on from one beguiled generation to the next.
Illuminature by Carnovsky, text by Rachel Williams
A beautifully illustrated and written guide to unsuspected secrets and marvels magically seen through a three-colour lens. A book for young explorers, complex minds, eyes that thirst for all that lies beneath. A great big book of oodles of knowledge and wisdom.
Magnificent Creatures: Animals on the Move by Anna Wright
(Faber & Faber)
This is a book of uniquely tactile quality and calmness, a soft whisper to send you on a long journey of mystical encounters. A beautiful book, a gorgeous gift.
Above and Below by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Hanako Clulow
Captivatingly rich, this is for young naturalists eager to turn pages – in the book of life, as well as ordinary ones. It will become a guide, an indelible mark.
Historium: Welcome to the Museum by Richard Wilkinson and Jo Nelson
(Big Picture Press)
This is A book to lie on, tummy on bottom of the page, an old-fashioned Atlas reborn for the 21st century, brimming with the enchantment of culture, ethnology, history, the wonder of many lives and the mystery of Time. Certain to inspire much digging up of old bones and endless threads of stories.
Timeline by Peter Goes
This is for the incurably curious George, for whom history is stories, endless tales, unfathomed and mesmerising. Whether you are transported by the words or plunge right into the images, this is a real journey of a book, a tale to share, with its Big Bang beginning and trails to follow. Look for every figure in the carpet…
My name is Book: An Anthology as told by John Agard
This is a story to be read quietly, seriously, deliciously: the story of the evolution of writing and of writing implements, animated by erudite humour, a relish for storytelling and a considerable amount of panache. For the definitely curious, or even meta-curious.
Old classics in bedazzling new clothes
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by MinaLima
Every generation of children should have a copy of this tale of wisdom, magic, impossible innocence. MinaLima design studio’s graphic, interactive narrative accompanies Kipling’s words of enchantment with staggering drama.
The Snow Spider: 30th Anniversary Edition by Jenny Nimmo
(Egmont Modern Classics)
An entrancing tale, in a new edition celebrating the 30th anniversary of a tale for all. Who could resist a grandmother bearing gifts? As for the offerings, they are certainly the stuff of legend: a brooch, a piece of dried seaweed, a tin whistle, a scarf, and a broken toy horse. Magicians wanted, adventures guaranteed, thrills, laughter and hours of delight.
The Best Bear in All the World: A Collection of Four Stories inspired by A.A. Milne & E.H. Shepard
by Paul Bright, Brian Sibley, Jeanne Willis and Kate Saunders, with decorations by Mark Burgess
One can never have too much of a Bear called Pooh, and this is a celebration of Pooh-ness that will delight young and old, as well as rekindling the yearning for the original.
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf, adapted by Kochka, illustrated by Olivier Latyk (Words & Pictures)
Lagerlöf’s tale of haunting beauty, with its echoes of Peer Gynt and the irresistible pull of wanderlust and a feather-light existence, is here recreated for younger readers who will not fail to be spellbound by the laser-cut illustrations and the lilt of the words.
Mary Poppins: Up, Up and Away by P.L. Travers
adapted by Hélène Druvert (Thames & Hudson)
A combination of holidays and children should always include Mary Poppins and gorgeous picture books, and this one is a real work of art, intricate, intriguing, utterly beguiling.
The Amazing Adventures of Freddie Whitemouse
by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Who could resist delving into the life of someone called Little Freddie Whitemouse (please, do not tell him you think he is a mouse), of No. 16, Skirting Board West? This is a deliriously funny, deeply moving, utterly charming story to delight old and young alike.
The Tale of the Castle Mice by Michael Bond
illustrated by Emily Sutton
Mice are obligatory at this time of the year, whether they are terrible mice in your favourite Nutcracker, or characterful mice conjured up by Michael Bond. A doll’s-house existence is shattered without warning, and a mischief of mice must face their destiny. Nostalgic, dreamy, utterly beguiling.
Ripping Yarns & Tales of Mystery
The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, translated by Laura Watkinson (Pushkin Children’s Books)
This is a compulsory gift to any child (or child-no-more) who has already been lured into the irresistible world of Tonke Dragt. A life-enhancing gift for any still uninitiated.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Karen Milkwood Hargrave (ChickenHouse)
Who said girls cannot have fun? This is a mystical, daredevil, thrill-filled, whirlwind of a tale, with deep, gentle friendship at its centre. For the slightly older, not yet too old reader in mind.
Cogheart by Peter Bunzl (Usborne)
With echoes (and certainly much of the magic and beauty) of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, this is a book of enchantment and stilling suspense, a daughter’s quest into a world of danger, marvel, promise and despair in search of a lost father. Daring, dazzling, deeply absorbing.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(Vintage new edition)
You will dream hard, feel intensely, delight with this book. You shall be mischievous, adventurous, bewildered and enchanted. Above all, you shall be asked to solve ‘ethereal enigmas’. For older (or very old) readers, a book to question the purported thrill of magic at the same time that one is mesmerised by it.
The Return of the Young Prince by A.G. Roemmers
translated by Oliver Brock (Oneworld)
I remember being sent a copy of Le Petit Prince when I was a child living in Africa. It struck me as the most exotic, beautiful, wise of stories, a story that should never end. In The Return of the Young Prince many will find the sequel they have been longing for, others a story with a powerful meaning of its own.
A willow cot for eager tots
Mango and Bambang: Tapir-not-a-pig, Tapir All at Sea and Tiny Tapir Trouble
by Polly Faber, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy (Walker Books)
Caveat emptor on this marvellous trio: they are seriously addictive, charmingly endearing, the perfect gift for grandparents in dire need of beguiling stories to share with (much) younger ears. Mango is a girl in the venerable tradition of Milly-Molly-Mandy, and the books share the humour and extravagant allure of Babar and many other classics. Offer all three –they will be cherished, unputdownable.
The Storm Whale in Winter
by Benji Davies
(Simon & Schuster)
If you fell in love with 2013’s The Storm Whale, now you can follow Noi’s new adventures through soft snowflakes and icy storms. Irresistibly tender and magical for little eyes and ears, with a spellbinding trailer: thestormwhale.com
Three Little Monkeys by Quentin Blake & Emma Chichester Clark (Harper Collins)
Expect mischief galore if you give this to any beloved imp. As the giver, you may be spared, you will certainly be rewarded with grinning faces and peals of laughter. Highly recommended.
The Queen’s Hat, The Queen’s Handbag and The Queen’s Present by Steve Antony
(Hodder Children’s Books)
Another highly desirable trilogy, filled with boisterous charm, humour, hilarious chaos and mayhem – and, of course, royal decorum. For those occasions when one simply must be sure of choosing the perfect gift.
A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young by Michael Rosen
illustrated by Chris Riddell
There is no better way to turn children into bookworms than a great big cuddle and some truly nifty, tongue-twirling, inspired verses. A perfect gift for all seasons.
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books)
Roll each word in your mouth as you read this to a very very young mesmerised cherub, and they will fall in love with the entrancing power of sound and meaning, the curious discrepancy between appearance and reality. Simply delightful.
The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
An enlightened, dark, quirky story full of promise, mystery and the discovery of happiness, images, the pattern behind order and especially disorder. Lists are life to the Liszts, who will learn to embrace the unexpected – read on to find out, lose yourselves in the tarot-like illustrations concealing unchartered lands of mayhem.
An Elephantasy by Maria Elena Walsh
translated by Daniel Hahn
(Pushkin Children’s Books)
Every child loves an elephant, it is always adults who perniciously ignore the most beautiful, exciting, adorable elephants in the room. This is a Paddington Bear of an elephant, that just has to be welcomed into every tiny child’s bedroom.
The Story Cure: An A-Z of Books to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise
by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (Canongate)
Finally, for all those confused, disoriented parents and grandparents roaming the children’s section of bookshops in a bewildered daze, this is a book that promises to guide us all through the labyrinth. The warning on the label reads: side-effects include a chronic craving for stories, books and storytelling.
Mika Provata-Carlone is an independent scholar, translator, editor and illustrator, and a contributing editor to Bookanista. She has a doctorate from Princeton University and lives and works in London.