As the year 2018 draws to a dumbfounding or resounding close, the words to speak the tales of both tragedy and joy become perhaps the most precious of gifts. Especially for young – or not so young – ears and eyes searching for a meaningful narrative, a thread of sense through a life whose text they have not yet begun to write, and which they will have to inherit in order to decipher, edit, rewrite, embellish. Perhaps bind in lavish covers or burn at the stake.
Books for children, about children, for the sake of childhood and the power of hope, gladness and responsiveness we owe a younger generation. And a reminder that, like new pets, a children’s book is not just for Christmas.


For skittish kitten-spirits or ebullient puppy-hearts…

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
Puffin, paperback, 32pp, £6.99

If you were not wise enough or quick enough to put this in their stockings last year, a new edition should make you hasten to your nearest bookshop to ensure this enchanting little cracker of a story will become a family heirloom for any children in your life, and for all children to come. A story of tenderness and naughtiness in almost equal measure, a yarn to share with grumpy, jolly or simply fall-in-lovably quirky grand-papas and grand-mamas. Remember: they have been where you are now, and you will soon find yourselves in their place.

* click on book covers to read more

Grandma Bird by Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster Children’s, paperback, 32pp, £6.99

Hmmm… There seems to be a pattern here… In a fast evolving and changing world, perhaps what is old, older or positively Methuselah-like, is our only hope for a viable future. One more grand-paternal and grand-maternal story that will leave your little ones, and all you older ones, mesmerised and wide-eyed.


Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert by Morag Hood, illustrated by Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s, paperback, 32pp, £6.99

There is so much nebulousness and ambiguity everywhere around us, that we desperately need the staunch reality of unicorns to help us make sense of our fellow bipeds, quadrupeds, dreamy elves and fairies, or even and especially Brexicorns and other single-corned figments of our reality and imagination. A beautifully exhaustive guide that will leave you wondering how you ever managed life and childhood without it.


One Day in Wonderland: A Celebration of Lewis Carroll’s Alice by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Two Hoots, hardback, 32pp, £12.99

This is an absolute box of delights, both visually and in terms of the richness of the tale it so captivatingly tells. Alice emerges full-blooded and full-bodied, as well as ethereal, an eternal symbol of the innocence and intricacy of childhood. Thanks to Krull, and to Sardà’s gorgeous illustrations, Lewis Carroll’s joie de vivre and thirst for the joy of stories leap out of the pages, as does his power of enchantment and his mystery. You may never want to come out of this simply riveting world of mirrors and reflections.


Franklin and Luna Go to the Moon by Jen Campbell, illustrated by Kate Harnett
Thames and Hudson, hardback, 32pp, £11.95

There are some childhood friendships that define us for life. They may even on occasion cause our parents mild or acute consternation, bewilderment or, if we are particularly fortunate, a fierce sense of pride. You will need to be your own judges as to how you may respond to Luna’s best friend. We have no doubt however that at the end of the story every child will experience a very urgent sense of misty-eyed longing – if only we could all have a friend like Franklin…


Franklin’s Flying Bookshop by Jen Campbell, illustrated by Kate Harnett
Thames and Hudson, paperback, 32pp, £6.99

So you and your child or children have a favourite bookshop. A place where you visit, regularly or intermittently, depending on the seasons, where you squat down to the lowest shelves or stretch, catlike, to reach the highest tomes of incandescent wisdom and enchantment. Do you have, however, a book-wise, pagivore friend, who carries their very own bookshop (and perhaps even yours) on their back? A booklover’s fantasy, an idyll of friendship and childhood.


Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat by Kate Harnett
Flying Eye Books, hardback, 32pp, £11.99

This is a slightly older book (2016) by the illustrator of Luna and Franklin, but definitely one to put at the very top of your list if you are desperately looking to name a new kitten or even older catkins. For wordsmiths, cat lovers, bibliophiles and daydreamers.


Sleep: How Nature Gets its Rest by Kate Prendergast
Old Barn Books, hardback, 32pp, £10.99

Cats nap; children sometimes do; adults wish they could indulge ever so much more in this precious, hard-to-get commodity and luxurious state of bliss. This is a beautifully written book to awaken young minds to the wisdom of nature, to give them the gift of natural rhythms, and to inspire them with a profound respect for all that is quite simply normal and just right.


Journeys by Jonathan Litton, illustrated by Chris Chalik, Dave Shephard
Jon Davis and Leo Hartas

360 Degrees, hardback, 96pp, £17.99

This is for the budding Dr Livingstons, Scotts, Amundsens and Jules Vernes in your household, an absolutely fascinating book to thrill and to inspire, an invitation to a lifelong love affair with the wonders of an ever-changing world. Cultural history, human daring, the awesomeness of nature and the extraordinary powers of enchantment in what is little as well as in what looms great. A feast for the eyes and a summons to a glorious trail.


An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare
DK Children, hardback, 224pp, £20

In a world so ruthlessly ruled by digital technology, virtual reality and somewhat soulless animation, this entrancingly illustrated book is an absolute joy that will provide endless hours of very real wonder. It will not fail to beguile you into its hidden mysteries, intrigues and the wisdom that may be waiting to be discovered just around the corner of your own patch of land or concrete block.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
Bloomsbury, paperback, 656pp, £10.99

An enduring bestseller first published in 2015, here are stories for all ages to give facts their proper value and to animate history with every spark of life that it contains. An engrossingly rich, perfectly multifaceted survey of lands and people, of the forces and waves that have marked and shaped human destiny from West to East and from South to North.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated by Michael Morpurgo
Vintage Children’s Classics, hardback, 96pp, £9.99

Little children grow up but the Little Prince remains eternally unchanged, the incarnation of all that is magical, real and even tragic in life for every generation. A new translation, by Michael Morpurgo no less, cannot possibly fail to find its way into your “cannot-possibly-not-read-this” list of this year, and the next, and the years that follow.


Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers,
illustrated by Lauren Child

HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, 192pp, £20

Mary Poppins is firm but kind, irresistible, indomitable, ageless and mysterious. She will be returning to a screen near you soon enough, and should you want her to also snuggle under your tree (in manner, of course, most dignified), this new edition featuring Lauren Child’s quirky illustrations is just the way to get her to do it. Simply and most exuberantly Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


The Night I Met Father Christmas by Ben Miller, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Simon & Schuster Children’s, hardback, 304pp, £12.99

Do you remember when you first met Father Christmas? No?! Oh, dear… Then you must certainly freshen up your memory and encourage that of the eager little people in your life with this gentle, thrilling volume, that will remind you of all that Christmas is and should be about. A cuddly, very wise little book, to accompany mince pies and fond reflections.


All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
Scribe, hardback, 32pp, £11.99

Budding very young boffins and little bright sparks bristling with intelligence and brimming with ideas are in for a further treat in January, just as they have exhausted their pile of Christmas musings, amusements and more serious perusals. All the Ways to be Smart is a brilliant, gorgeous book bursting with unconventional magic spells that prove science is so much more than mere logic, and that being smart is above all about being happy. A feast for the eyes and heart, full of foolproof methods to enchant and inspire young minds.


For young cats that can leap and chase their tale, or for young dogs who know how to hide a bone…

The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup
Pushkin Children’s Books, paperback, 256pp, £6.99

I am quite certainly not sure how you could have ever reached this stage of your lives without knowing all there is to know about the mysterious, elusive, absolutely indispensable Barbegazi. If you still need to know the way of how to find one, follow Tessa as she maps out the world of human emotions, charts the unknowable seas of friendship and escalates the massive mountains of family love, connectedness and trust. A heartwarming, very exciting book, that will become a treasure trove and an heirloom.


The Story of Gulliver retold by Jonathan Coe; The Story of Captain Nemo retold by Dave Eggers
Pushkin Children’s Books, paperback, 96pp/104pp, £7.99

A few years ago, Pushkin Press launched a veritable crusade: to reintroduce children to the strongest, most ageless stories, retold with awe as well as with panache. For parents who grew up on simplified classics, this will ring a very nostalgic, much cherished bell. Newly reissued in paperback, these two magnificently retold tales will bewitch with irresistible allure, and open the path to many memorable adventures.


Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown Young Readers, hardback, 48pp, £13.99

Granted, this is an older book (first published in 2011). But perhaps you have not come across it, and now is as good a time as any to offer young minds the gift of someone whose own heart has stayed unfailingly pure and young. Whose purpose in life was to enhance the lives of all others – humans and animals alike. Enchantingly told by Patrick McDonnell, the story of Jane Goodall will provoke discussions, ventures, journeys, reflections, even launch future plans and mighty careers.


Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder: Adventures in Science Around the Kitchen Table by Alom Shaha and Emily Robertson
Scribe, paperback, 64pp, £8.99

So what if your Christmas pudding won’t budge from its bowl, if your mince pies defy the laws of black hole gravity and your Stollen seems a little over-swollen… There is SO much else that is ever so MORE explosively rewarding in a kitchen, and this is the book that will tell you all about it. Fantastical experiments carried out with the most mundane of implements will make these holidays simply unforgettable. For budding scientists and their unsuspecting parents.


The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
Pushkin Children’s Books, paperback, 224pp, £6.99

An Easter story for Christmas??? Absolutely. This pooh-stick-filled, taffeta-crisp joy of a book, first published in 1941 when the author was just 16, will put you and all the youngsters around you (we bet you will be reading this before they do) in the right mood for pantomimes and puppet shows, for the grand spectacle that is the swishing of the curtain of time and of lives. A grand story in the old tradition by a wide-eyed girl who became a grande dame of children’s books and television. To be placed right next to your Nutcracker cracker without further ado or delay.


Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, 400pp, £12.99

There was, once upon a time, The Little Bookroom – a world of stories that led to more tales, to realms beyond all dreams. Anna James gives us her own bookworld, for bookworms, and page-dwellers, especially for bookwanderers seeking substance and warmth, new words for old truths, especially the words that can solve riddles and mysteries. A page-turner for seriously delighted story lovers.


The Adventures of Catvinkle by Elliot Perlman, illustrated by Laura Stitzel
Pushkin Children’s Books, paperback, 240pp, £7.99

This book proves that if you cannot possibly find a book to suit your favourite grandchild, godchild or very own child, then the best next thing is to sit down and write the story that will do. Elliot Perlman first honed his skills on adult readers before feeling competent enough to tackle the demands, needs and formidable powers of the young. The result of his training is a charming story of opposites that cannot resist the most fatal and vital attraction. Read on to discover the cat that flies, the dog that perhaps lies, and their world of bewildered, mesmerised humans.


Stories for serious perusal, musings and amusement – best read with a cat on your lap or a dog at your feet, just almost grown-up style…

Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw, translated by Laura Watkinson
Pushkin Children’s Books, hardback, 224pp, £10.99

A war story of courage, hope, sacrifice and resignation is somehow the most perfect story for a Christmas stocking or a Hanukkah light. Winter in Wartime has the highest storytelling qualities and the deepest of human resonance. Based on Terlouw’s own recollections of the German invasion of the Netherlands, it is light and dark, terrifying and peaceful, full of warning, urgency and promise. A lesson in history, a gift of humanity, a delicate, beautiful tale, exquisitely told, that will not fail to move, captivate and inspire.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll
Faber & Faber, paperback, 304pp, £6.99

A little bit of thrill goes a long way, in the past as well as in our over-stimulated present. This is a proper, unputdownable adventure, with a curse, mysterious packages, duplicitous or preciously authentic trail maps and the promise of treasure, doom and triumph almost on every page. For bright eyes, eager ears, restless feet and indomitable hearts with a relish for the yarns of history and the secrets of cultures far away.


The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Usborne Children’s Books, paperback, 336pp, £6.99

There are all sorts of grandmothers, of every different shape and size, degree of quirkiness, positive eeriness or enchantment, and then there are baba yagas, the irresistibly terrifying old mothers of Russian fairy tales. Marinka’s grandmother is the most thrillingly petrifying of them all, and you will have to read this utterly spellbinding tale to find out about how you can change your destiny, how you can keep a house from following you or running away from you, and why chicken legs are involved at all. A sparklingly frightening tale for the brave, the fainthearted and the helplessly curious.


The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond, illustrated by Alex T. Smith
Walker Books, paperback, 272pp, £6.99

A new book by David Almond is a book not to be missed, especially if it features a pocket-size angel that can travel with you anywhere you go… A story of mirth and loneliness, of boisterous mischief and plain old-fashioned gentleness, an irresistible gift and keepsake.


Through the Water Curtain & Other Tales from Around the World selected and edited by Cornelia Funke
Pushkin Children’s Books, hardback, 224pp, £12.99

A master storyteller revives the time-honoured tradition of Christmas stories with a collection of riveting tales. Discover new heroes and old mythologies, fresh wisdom and outworn tricks of lore, and beat all signs of post-Boxing Day boredom with this rainbow of narratives. Beautifully told and presented, audaciously featured and selected, they are not to be missed.


The Mystery of the Colour Thief by Ewa Jozefkowicz
Zephyr, hardback, 192pp, £10.99

Families and traumas, dreams, friendship and healing… The Mystery of the Colour Thief has every bauble on your Christmas tree, including those that you inadvertently smashed over the years. Very sensitive, piercingly sharp, eloquently told, this is a book to read quietly, for it will speak to you very loudly indeed.


The Afterwards by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, hardback, 224pp, £12.99

A dark story for starry nights, a gentle secret with scary sides. A tale for readers who relish hidden worlds and lengthy, forbidden journeys, adventures that lead to the longest friendships. Elegiac and suspenseful, wise and lighthearted at the same time.


The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hurgrave
Chicken House, hardback, 256pp, £10.99

A lyrical tale about that inscrutable moment when childhood transforms into adulthood; a story of sibling love and bravery; an enchanted yarn with echoes from a host of tales past, tales present and tales to come. A wondrous book for weathered page-farers.


The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay
Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, 320pp, £12.99

A beautiful, sad, mischievous and marvellous book, full of hard truths and gentle hopes, the tribulations of youth and the myopia of old age. Also the tragedies and catastrophic errors of an era. The perfect book to take a young imagination back to the past of a hundred years ago, which seems never to have left us.


The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakovleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Puffin, paperback, 256pp, £6.99

More dark terror for the feast of light? That’s right, and that’s just the point. The Raven’s Children is historical fiction at its finest, a tale about the reality of politics and the politics of our own destiny. Russia before WWII, Stalin, the Secret Police, it cannot get much more ominously thrilling than that…


Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
Andersen Press, paperback, 432pp, £7.99

More politics, more darkness, and more light. A fierce, funny and liberating YA novel about the Suffragettes to embolden the budding feminists in your nest, to inspire girls and boys alike. Guaranteed to spark hours of fiery debates.


Glass Town Wars by Celia Rees
Pushkin Children’s Books, hardback, 320pp, £12.99

Another anniversary is celebrated this year, alongside that of the end of WWI, and it is this time a celebration of women, women’s voices and writing, of the power of literature to fashion and to elucidate reality. Two hundred years have gone by since Emily Brontë was born, and this shrewdly ambitious novel conjures up a feast of both fancy and reality to celebrate her spirit, her authorial presence, her literary genius, her boundless imagination. A rare find on the YA bookshelves, snatch it as fast as you can for any precociously fertile mind on your gifting list. A reflected modern gothic fantasy, with old, vintage depth.


The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick
Zephyr, hardback, 240pp, £12.99

Another celebration of a Romantic goddess or divine monster, this time Mary Shelley, by a writer whose skill for the deepest hues and the brightest of lights never fails to enthral. Taking its hint from Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart and its message that the thoughtless limitlessness of your imagination may also be the endlessness of your doom, Marcus Sedgwick presents us with an apocalypse that took place more than 200 years ago. Thrill younger minds with the riotous exploits of old rebels that cannot ever become antiquated.


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.