The problem with picking a children’s book for a Christmas present is that once the words start to be read, the Christmas moment has invariably passed. So, instead of holiday-themed books, I’ve put together a list of titles to inspire awe and wonder – books to provoke an enthusiastic thank you letter and last longer than one post-Christmas glance. I remember each year my Godmother used to send a package, tied and wrapped in exotic paper – unusual and distinctive books which always invited the question ‘Why’? Decades later I see the thought behind these choices and each one remains tantalisingly interesting to read. This is my attempt to create a list of books to surprise, bewitch, and survive.
This list of children’s books for Christmas presents includes stories by Ben Manley, Sharon King-Chai, James Carter, Maya Angelou, Christopher Lloyd, and Sandra Dieckmann.
Children’s books for Christmas presents
The Panda’s Child by Jackie Morris and Cathy Fisher
Only a boy and the spirit of the forest can save a panda’s child in this generational tale of nature, empathy and conservation. This large-format hardback would make the ideal gift book for Christmas or a glittering gem to read to groups of children at the end of a long day at school. Inside the gold foil-adorned cover there’s sumptuous artwork with full-colour double-page spreads. With a lyrical verse story, The Panda’s Child is a joy to read to younger children and one that will inspire children to consider and discuss how people and animals can live together.
Michael Morpurgo’s Tales from Shakespeare by Michael Morpurgo
Michael Morpurgo presents 10 classics using a deft storytelling touch to convey complex plots with a concise alacrity. Readers will understand and empathise with characters that can otherwise prove challenging. With compelling artwork by a who’s who of contemporary children’s illustrators including Varroux, Michael Foreman, Sam Usher, Dapo Adeola, Tom Clohosy Cole, Ian Beck, Peter Bailey, Alona Millgram and Joelle Avelino this fantastic hardback is an ideal gift for children aged 9+ in KS2, and also older students who need to build confidence before studying Shakespeare in KS3 or for GCSE. Highly recommended.
Christmas is Love by Emma Dodd
Two reindeer show readers young and old what Christmas really means in this heartwarming padded board book for preschool children. Full of warmth, joy and Christmas cheer. After reading this, it won’t be Christmas without snowflakes, twinkling stars and magical reindeer. The gorgeous front cover will even sparkle and glow under the Christmas tree.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
The 65th-anniversary edition contains the very first eight-chapter Paddington adventure with an introduction by Michael Bond, This beautifully realised hardback – unabridged and completed with heart-warming original colour illustrations by Peggy Fortnum – is a joy to read and share. A timeless children’s story, A Bear Called Paddington is the perfect Christmas book present.
History FACTopia!: Follow Ye Olde Trail of 400 Facts by Paige Towler, illustrated by Andy Smith
400 seemingly unrelated fun historical facts neatly segue into each other on a trail that takes in ancient civilisations, sports, mythology, the history of medicine, culture and more. With compelling photography, bold graphics and quirky cartoons, children aged 8+ will be fascinated by every page. It’s perfect for children who like to dip into nonfiction texts, and ideal for KS2 libraries.
The Winter Wish by Helen Mortimer & Rachael Dean
William is a child who lives in a world of books – a magical bookshop filled with the wonders of words. But hard times are ahead and William creates the most incredible display to entice Christmas shoppers and more in this spellbinding tale of warmth and hope. A beautiful festive hardback with vibrant illustrations, The Winter Wish is a magical bedtime story for Christmas, a wonderful gift for booklovers and great text to model Christmas stories in years 2 and 3.
Inside The Suitcase by Clotilde Perrin
This magical illustrated quest follows a young boy packing his suitcase and travelling through an otherwordly land of forests, mountains, oceans and underwater. At every stage, the reader can lift the flap to delve deeper into the story and lift another to see more and more detail and surprises. Part mystery, part enchantment and part fantasy, the story twists and turns and challenges the reader to work out how the boy will find his way home. A modern masterpiece, this is a beautiful book to give to younger children for Christmas.
National Geographic Kids: The World’s Most Amazing Places
This impressive and weighty hardback is stuffed full of high-quality full-colour images. Taking in Oceania, South America, North America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and ocean islands, National Geographic Kids present the most amazing places on the planet. Each location features ‘wow facts’ and compelling geographical and environmental details. The big, bold layouts make this book ideal for children in KS2, and ‘The World’s Most Amazing Places’ ticks all the Christmas present book boxes.
How to Be More Paddington: A Book of Kindness by Michael Bond
In 9 sections, including ‘being polite’, ‘being positive’, and ‘being friendly’, this beautifully illustrated hardback presents short moments of Paddington’s life as experiences to ponder and help shape the self. Light-hearted, yet poignant, this book epitomises the motto ‘be kind’ and would make an ideal present to help children embrace the spirit of Christmas.
Timeline Science and Technology: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes
This large-format hardback traces a chronology of the key technological developments in the history of mankind. Effectively a history of STEM, inventions and discoveries for each epoch is presented in an engaging visual style using glowing pen and ink drawings and deft typography – from the stone age, through to early civilizations, the Renaissance, and beyond. This is a blockbuster of a non-fiction book for children in KS2 – perfect for primary school libraries.
The Misadventures of Frederick by Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark
A thoughtful and moving story about a boy – Frederick, who is sheltered and safety conscious, and a girl – Emily who is brimming with adventure. They communicate by writing letters folded into paper aeroplanes giving each other a glimpse into their very different lives. Enchanting illustrations feature on every page, with lots to look at and discuss. A great book to read and share with your child.
Leon and The Space Between by Graham Baker-Smith
An enchanting book that invites the reader to follow Leon into an imaginary magical world that exists where things that have vanished have yet to reappear. Travelling on a flying carpet, Leon sees magician’s doves, cards and scenes of awe and wonder. The illustrations glow. A startling and inspirational picture book.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
This beautiful large-format hardback edition of T.S. Eliot’s collection of classic poems is set to vibrant and captivating new illustrations by Júlia Sardà. Including ‘Mr Mistoffelees’, ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’, these are the whimsical rhymes that inspired the West End play, ‘Cats’. Celebrating 80 years since the original issue, this is a fabulous book that would make a perfect Christmas present for a 7-11-year-old child or display book for the school library.
Britannica’s Encyclopedia Infographica by Valentina D’Efilippo, Andrew Pettie and Conrad Quilty-Harper
Dive into a world of knowledge with “Encyclopedia Infographica,” which features 200 infographics packed with information about space, Earth, animals, humans, and technology. Every page is laden with visual hooks and just the right amount of text to spark thought, imagination and higher-order questioning. At 1.5 kilograms, this hardback is packed full of amazing facts. Complex ideas are made graspable and 10+ year old readers will gain confidence knowing that they’ve learned something new. A stunning achievement, Britannica’s Encyclopedia Infographica is highly recommended for children interested in STEM, real facts and learning how the world and universe beyond works.
Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs by Christopher Reid
The book that T.S. Eliot perhaps imagined but never wrote, this spectacular hardback is a wonderful companion piece to ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. With crisp typography and lively illustrations by Sara Ogilvie, the poems follow the style and tone of the original ‘Old Possum’ collection and might inspire young readers to create their own humorous pet verse. A great book to share in KS2 classrooms.
Music by Nicholas O’Neill & Susan Hayes
A staggeringly detailed large-format book that transforms into a double-sided 2.4-metre wallchart. Split into three parallel timelines, spanning from the year 41000 BCE to the present day, musical maestros, musical questions and musical mechanics are illustrated with fun and engaging cartoons and digestible factual chunks. To add an inspired extra dimension, there’s a Spotify-powered musical playlist at the back of the book. This book will make a memorable and eye-catching Christmas present for children aged 8-12.
Starbird by Sharon King-Chai
An intricately illustrated picture book with eye-catching silver foil embellishments about a mythical bird whose song provokes incredible dreams in the minds of those who fall asleep to its tune. The King becomes obsessed with caging the prized bird as a gift for his daughter, who is equally intent on setting it free. This is a spell-binding bedtime story and a book to treasure.
The After Christmas Tree by Bethan Welby
An original festive story about Brian, who finds a discarded Christmas tree and decides to take it home and care for it so that is can be used again next year. This is a sensitive and inspiring story with a clever and conscientious sense of sustainability. A good book to read and discuss with EYFS children.
Maps of the United Kingdom by Rachel Dixon and Livi Gosling
A fantastic atlas of the UK with a double-page spread for each county. Packed with cartoons, graphics and short bursts of facts, each area is brought alive with history, geography, biographies, and points of scientific interest. This is a great book to share and dip into, and ideal for a child to take on holiday to unexplored parts of the country.
Illuminature by Carnovsky
A unique nature book that uses a special lens to explore ten very different environments. Presented with fabulous illustrations and bursts of textual detail, the reader uses the lens to see landscapes through the eyes of the animals that live there – in the daylight, at night and travelling through the rich foliage. This book will be a real talking point.
The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain
A stunning large-format picture book that folds out into a long frieze. Starting at the top, the reader can follow the earth down through layers to the core, and then carefully turn over the book to follow a path through to the other side of the world. Lots of detail – scientific information and vivid illustrations. A great book for sharing and returning to again and again; and a perfect children’s book for Christmas to unwrap and unfurl on a carpet or table.
Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy by The School of Life
A book that tackles challenging ideas in an accessible and compelling way – ideal for children who like to think and want to understand how and why. Nothing is dumbed down, and all the key philosophical concepts are discussed in scenarios to which children aged 10+ will relate. It’s also a hefty triple-tomed slipcase affair that lends itself to precision gift wrapping.
The Wonder Garden by Kristjana S Williams and Jenny Bloom
This is one of those books that each time you look at it you could spot something new. The exquisite double-page spreads examine wild panoramas, such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon Rainforest and while the glorious artwork grabs the reader’s attention, there’s also a lot of textual detail about each creature depicted. A fantastic present for a child interested in the natural world.
Absolutely Everything!: A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention by Christopher Lloyd
A quite staggering historical synthesis of everything we know about. Packed with anecdotes, history, science, and big ideas; this book is unique in the way it tries to link together and explain seemingly disparate events so the reader will start to see cause and effect. In short, this book will take what your child has learned at school, reframe it, add context, and encourage a lot of thinking. Now updated, revised and expanded.
A History of Pictures for Children by David Hockney
A complete history of art for children, guided through each period and invention by a cartoon David Hockney chatting to the author Martin Gayford, with the reader listening in. Complex ideas and reproductions of famous works of art are presented with surprising clarity, and this is a compelling read for children aged 9+. A great children’s book for Christmas.
Eye to Eye by Steven Jenkins
A clever book that not only describes eyes in vast detail but also explains how all sorts of different creatures see. Children will be fascinated with snail whose eyes are literally out on stalks and how a stick insect can see in all sorts of different directions at the same time. Very detailed and scientific, this book is also accessible and highly engaging.
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat
A classic poem that Maya Angelou wrote for all the children who pretend to fear nothing, inviting them to challenge their fears and think about how they feel. Set to evocative and bright paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat, this is a fantastic book to inspire children’s imagination with words and art.
Once Upon a Magic Book by Lily Murray and Katie Hickey
A clever and memorable picture book in which Sophie and Jack find a mysterious book and a magical key. Suddenly, they find themselves inside the book, where each page contains a strange and magical world. The reader is invited to follow and solve puzzles to help Sophie and Jack avoid danger and find their way home.
Dictionary of Dinosaurs by Dr Matthew Baron and Dieter Braun
This book contains everything a child will ever want to know about over 300 different dinosaurs, complete with scale drawings, detailed facts and a very big eyeball on the front cover. This weighty oversized hardback will stand out at unwrapping time.
Island of Whispers by Frances Hardinge, illustrated by Emily Gravett
On the island of Merlank, young Milo becomes the Ferryman after his father’s sudden death. Tasked with carrying away the Dead whose ghosts are deadly, his first journey is a perilous one. With cool and atmospheric artwork by Emily Gravett, Island of Whispers is A moving and timeless coming-of-age story with an uplifting and rewarding ending. It would make a stunning gift for older children and teens who love dark, atmospheric and thought-provoking fantasy stories. Highly recommended.
Once Upon a Raindrop: The Story of Water by James Carter
The story of water, from the beginning of time, is told through poetry in this stunningly illustrated book. A joy to read aloud, James Carter’s shape poetry and rhymes are perfect for shared reading and discussion.
Lots by Marc Martin
A celebration of exotic parts of the world – with each double-page spread very different from the previous one. Each location is presented as a series of lots – a series of buildings, or animals, or people, or machines – whatever is synonymous with that particular place and its identity. The unique presentation and descriptive style makes this a great book to pore over and talk about.
Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill
A captivating large-format hardback that takes the reader on a pastel illustrated journey alongside Shackleton as he seeks to reach the South Pole. Minimal text and maximum atmosphere make this a book to revisit. Ideal not just for children interested in real-life stories, but also a great impetus for sketching and drawing.
Orchestra by Avalon Nuovo and David Doran
A compelling book that examines every aspect of an orchestra – from individual instruments to sections, music, composers, the conductor and the venue. Presented with distinctive, bold and stylised illustrations, there’s a lot to look at and an incredible amount of detail. Ideal for children who like to listen to or play music.
Leaf by Sandra Dieckmann
A beautifully realised picture book for younger children about a polar bear who sparks fear and distrust among the other animals. Touching on the theme of climate change, this is a warm-hearted story and great to read as a bedtime story.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A timeless and wordless picture book story of a family that leaves everything behind to move to a new land. The uncertainty and displacement, combined with discovery and hope, shine through the other-worldly and captivating images. Voted one of the best 100 children’s books of all time by The Sunday Times and a great children’s book for Christmas.
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