Books for children this Christmas...
We're all about to go Puss In Boots crazy with the release of the film, but cunningly, wisely, the publishers have got in there first with an impressive number of Puss tie-ins already out there.
Puss In Boots The Novel is probably the best starting point (Bantam Books, £4.99). From the moment they met, young orphans Puss and Humpty were inseparable - until one day Humpty betrayed Puss. Now years later they meet again…
The chances are that the film itself will be vastly more fun, but for the moment, the novel romps along nicely enough - filling the time sweetly till you turn to you Puss In Boots Bumper Colouring And Activity Book (Bantam Books, £4.99).
The puzzles and activities are fairly standard, but it’s an attractively-presented book and certainly offers decent value in terms of quantity.
Puss also comes served up as a picture book, Puss In Boots (Bantam Books, £3.99) and, marginally more interesting, as Puss In Boots 3D Movie Guide with fold-out poster and 3D glasses (£4.99) - gimmicky, but then again the whole film is gimmicky, elevating a bit-part player and giving him that extra dimension.
Still on the film theme and rather more substantial is The Adventures Of Tintin (Bantam Books, £6.99).
After buying a model of the Unicorn, young reporter Tintin discovers a secret message hidden inside the mast of the ship. But what does it mean? Who are the three brothers and why does it mention three Unicorns when there was only one vessel with that name?
The clues start to pile up as Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy find themselves sailing, flying and riding camels around the globe on an epic adventure. But they aren’t the only ones seeking the truth. There are enemies and great danger at every turn.
It’s a tale told with pace and style, capturing something of the fun of a rather more adventurous age; just as importantly, it’s nicely written - which is all a parent could ask for.
Fine writing, as ever, also comes from Jacqueline Wilson in her latest book, this time in the shape of Lily Alone (Yearling, £6.99), aimed at nine to 11-year-olds.
Lily isn’t home alone - but she sort of wishes she was: looking after her three younger siblings is a lot of responsibility.
When Mum goes off on holiday with her new boyfriend and her stepdad fails to show up (classic Wilson fractured family territory), Lily is determined to keep the family together and show they can cope without any grown-ups. But taking care of six-year-old twins, her three-year-old sister and the family’s flat feels overwhelming and Lily is worried that school or social services might discover their situation and break up the family. What could be better than to take all the little ones for a camping adventure in the park? Plenty of space to run about, no carpet to vacuum, and surely no chance anyone will guess they’re there . . .
With Jacqueline Wilson, you know what you are getting - first-class story-telling, delivered with intelligence and compassion. And that’s certainly what you get here.
On a different note, another book worth dipping into this Christmas is the delightful-looking (and presumably even more delightful-tasting) Whoopie Pie Fun: The Essential Whoopie Pie Baking Book (Bantam Books, £6.99)
If you thought that making whoopie actually meant something else, then read the introduction for the explanation for this particular context.
Author Claire Ptak explains: “A whoopee is not a cookie or a typical cake, and it’s definitely not a pie. In fact, no one seems to know why it’s called a pie. A whoopie pie is somewhere between a cupcake and an ice cream sandwich - a cupcake with the icing in the middle.”
Among the delights are fluffy marshmallow filling, mocha orange whoopie, chocolate marshmallow filling, lemon cream whoopie, salty caramel whoopie and rhubarb and custard whoopie
An attractive series of children’s classics is also new in the shops this month, including The Story Of Doctor Doolittle, Little Miss Pepperpot And Other Stories, Emil And The Detectives, The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase and The Incredible Adventures Of Professor Branestawm, plus that all-time favourite The Silver Sword - written by the late Ian Serraillier who lived just north of Chichester
Hard-back and beautifully-produced, they would look superb on any shelf with their differently-coloured and yet matching covers, but you would have to say that they are pricey at £9.99 each (published by Jonathan Cape). They have the feel of collector’s items, which is probably not what you want with such essential classics. I can’t help feeling that much-loved classics need to come as battered old paperbacks rather than in editions so beautiful you hardly dare open them.
More user-friendly is the cheery picture-book paperback Mrs Pepperpot’s Christmas (Red Fox, £5.99) which lives up to all the promise on its cover which proclaims “a festive classic with a touch of magic”.
As you’ll remember, Mrs Pepperpot is the incredible-shrinking woman who always seems to shrink at exactly the wrong moment, this time just as she is about to go to the Christmas market - which, of course, presents the big problem of just how is she going to get presents for all her friends in time for Christmas.
First published nearly 40 years ago, it’s as fresh as ever - but possibly Father Christmas Needs a Wee by Nicholas Allan (Hutchinson, £4.99) is rather more fun.
At each different house that he visits Father Christmas drinks and eats all the goodies left out for him. Before long he really, really, really needs a wee. So much so that he even forgets to leave the presents behind. But he dashes back, delivers all the pressies and flies home at high speed to avoid an embarrassing accident . . . there’s just one tiny problem . . . he’s lost his house key!
Definitely one for the tinies, but it would be a real old Scrooge of an adult who doesn’t also smile throughout.
A real door-stopper of an anthology comes in the shape of Magic Beans: A Handful Of Fairy Tales From The Storybag, hundreds of pages of treasure from contemporary classic writers from Anne Fine to Jacqueline Wilson, from Philip Pullman to Michael Morporgo (David Fickling Books, £9.99)
Finally a book to overcome the most recalcitrant of readers: Boring, Botty And Spong by Russell Ash (Doubleday, £9.99), a genuinely-funny guide to the strangest names on earth, from wacky places to bizarre people via the fascinating stories of where everyday items get their totally-weird names. It’s packed full of the kind of snippets you just long to slip casually into refined conversation whenever you come across it.