Peter Costello looks at some offerings for younger readers.
The Night Before the Night Before Christmas
by Richard Scarry
(€8.79 / €6.99)
A festive Scarry classic now available in picture book format. When Mr Frumble decides to help out Santa, Christmas in Busytown becomes the busiest Christmas ever! Mr Frumble is so full of Christmas cheer that he decides to go straight to the North Pole to offer Santa some help. When Santa mistakenly takes off on the night before the night before Christmas, it looks as if Christmas in Busytown may not be able to go ahead at all. But Santa Frumble can be trusted to save the day… A Christmas story with all of the busy, busy charm of Richard Scarry – one of the greats of all time in the opinion of many parents – perfect for entertaining restless kids in the endless lead up to Christmas!
The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat
by Julia Donaldson
(Puffin Books, €12.99 / £10.99)
Julia Donaldson, the creator of the Gruffalo, revisits Edward Lear’s favourite rhyme in this wonderful new story set in a nonsensical land full of adventure. When their beautiful golden ring is stolen, the Owl and the Pussy-cat must travel far from the safety of the Bong-tree glade as their search for the thief leads them across the Sea, to the Chankly Bore and beyond.
Look out too for her other new books Sugarlump and the Unicorn (Macmillan Children’s Books, £10.99) and Superworm (Alison Green Books, £6.99)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck
by Jeff Kinney
(Penguin Puffin, €15.99 / £12.99)
This book had an initial print run of 800,000 copies, the publishers claim, making it one of the fastest selling children’s books since people began to take note of such things. This is the eighth book in the series, finding poor Greg on a losing streak. His best friend has given him up and things are not going well at school. He decides he will let change rule his life, cast dice to see what he should do. These books are interesting as an example of the crossover from the internet worlds to that of print. For this series began as a cartoon on Funbrain.com. With three films also made, can there be a young male reader who will not want to have this book for Christmas?
Roald Dahlís Heroes and Villains, with illustrations
by Quentin Blake
(Jonathan Cape, €23.99 / £19.99)
This is a compendium in full colour featuring some of Roald Dahl’s most magnificent heroes and monstrous villains: The Enormous Crocodile, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine. In the good corner find inventive George who stands up to his grizzly, grumpy grandma by mixing a potion unlike any other. And meet Mr Muggle-Wump and his family, whose bravery and quick-thinking lead to extraordinary events. In the bad corner Mr and Mrs Twit are the most terrible twosome you could ever have the misfortune to meet. And beware the crafty, child-guzzling crocodile.
Also available in a new edition, Dahl’s story of his own early years, Boy: Tales of Childhood (Jonathan Cape, £6.99). The son of Norwegian parents but brought up in England, this is not an autobiography but what he recalls of the strange and sometimes frightening events of childhood, with all the boring bits left out.
by Sam Childs
(Scholastic, €8.79 / £6.99)
There’s a new baby mammoth in the family and she’s called Woolly. But there’s one problem: she isn’t woolly. Not one bit. And she’s always cold. Sam Childs recounts the adventures of Woolly and her loving – and resourceful – family as they try to keep Woolly snug and cosy.
A mammoth tale of warmth and friendship, charmingly recorded by now well established artist Sam Childs.
Enid Blytonís Adventure Treasury
(Hodder Children’s Books, €23.99/£19.99)
Teachers and librarians spent decades trying to discourage children from reading and parents from buying the all too numerous books of Enid Blyton. Whatever about the lady herself (who has suffered at the hands of posthumous biographers) the books remained immensely popular. She triumphed over her captious critics, simply because many parents were delighted to see their offspring reading at all, and because children were enthralled by the Secret Seven and Famous Five. Now Mary Cadogan, who is both and fan and an expert on children’s books, has with the help of Blyton archivist Norman Wright, compiled a 384-page sampler of her work: stories, novels and poems are all here, as well as full colour reproductions of the original pictures. The Adventure Treasury will be a Christmas must-have present for Blyton fans. To some it may be pure hokum, to others a childhood delight recovered.
The Space Trilogy
by C. S. Lewis
(Harper Collins, €23.99 / £20.00)
This year to marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, an author whose Narnia series of magical novels for children will lead readers seamlessly on into his theological books, especially The Four Loves. Both Lewis and his Oxford friend Tolkien demonstrate that the Christian imagination is not always what it is said by its critics to be.
The Space Trilogy is a remarkable work of fantasy, demonstrating the powerful imagination of C.S. Lewis. This new one-volume edition marks the 75th anniversary of the first publication of Out of the Silent Planet. It has an exclusive foreword by J.R.R. Tolkien, on whom the main character, Dr Ransom, was largely based.
In Out of the Silent Planet (which is Earth) Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there… In Perelandara, Dr Ransom, having escaped from Mars, is called to the paradise planet of Perelandra (which is Venus). When his old enemy also arrives and Perelandra is taken over by the forces of evil, Ransom finds himself in a desperate struggle to save the innocence of this Eden-like world. And finally in That Hideous Strength, while investigating the truth about her prophetic dreams, Anne Studdock encounters the now famous Dr Ransom, who is in great pain after his travels. A sinister society run by his old adversaries intends to harness the ancient powers of a resurrected Merlin in their ambition to subjugate the people of Earth.
Of these books perhaps Perelandra, posing a serious theological question of humnaity’s encounter with innocent beings from other worlds not involved in the Fall, is the most interesting.
Diamond (from the World of Hetty Feather)
by Jaqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
(Doubleday Children’s Books, €15.70 / £12.99)
This is the fourth book in the Hetty Feather series, which have a well-established popularity among girls who like the combination of the colourful and the realistic. It deals with Hetty’s further adventures since she left the Foundling Hospital. Though her themes are often controversial Jaqueline Wilson has proved immensely popular with readers between the ages of 9-11.
How to Build a Human Body
By Tom Jackson
(Scholastic, €15.70 / £12.99)
For children aged eight and over, an introduction to the mysteries of human biology from the team who created the award-winning titles How to Make a Universe from 92 Ingredients and How to Change the World with a Ball of String, How to Build a Human Body makes human biology fun! Covering all the major body organs and systems, and featuring ‘experiments’ to help children to understand how their bodies work – this is a fascinating and entertaining approach to the science of the human body. This may be a very useful book in helping young people comes to terms with some basic mysteries of life.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien, boxed set of four volumes
(Harper Collins, €35.99 / £29.99)
Published to mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, this boxed set is an ideal present for all ages. Tolkien was among the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th Century, for it is likely that his imaginative world had more effect that anything that can be attributed to, say, G. K. Chesterton. With 150 million copies sold worldwide we are talking about something very serious here. The films of course give only a glimpse of the riches of the books themselves, which by now should need no recommendation.
Asterix and the Picts,
by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad
(Orion, €13.20 / £10.99)
Through the combined talents of the young successors to scenarist RenÈ Goscinny and artist Albert Uderzo, the heroes of Gaul return to cheer us all up.
This time they are on an adventure to return a washed up sailor to his native Pictland (Scotland before the invading Gaels from Ireland conquered all). Once again Anthea Bell finds felicitous transpositions for the names of the characters – the Pict is called MacAroon – and gets most of the jokes into place.
Our heroes help place MacAroon in the throne in place of the wicked MacCabaeus, meet up with the Loch Ness Monster, and thwart an invasion by their long standing foe the Romans.
The care and wit are all here once again, for the joy of longstanding fans of the BDs, and will make others new to the pair want to explore their back story.