16 December 2021
“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
Socks or books, socks or books? Our apologies to the world’s most famous wizard but however great socks may be, it is a fairly obvious decision for most when you consider the hours of enjoyment derived from settling down with a good read. And when buying a book for a child – particularly a reluctant reader – you want to make sure that the gift interests and excites from the moment the wrapping paper is first ripped and doesn’t leave the recipient wishing for socks instead.
With that in mind, we’ve asked our team of education consultants and writers for their top recommendations of books to buy for children this Christmas. A gently mischievous streak in our team has been revealed by a number of these suggestions…perhaps we can blame the pandemic.
Books for pre-schoolers
Books aimed at early years are as much about illustrations and the joy of being read to as they are about the child picking out letters and first words. Further up the age range our suggestions offer all that’s enticing and rewarding about good children’s literature, from new and clever language to gripping storylines and entertaining characters.
Our team recommended two books for pre-schoolers: Simon Sock by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet is a brilliant book for young children (as well as older adults and everyone in between) about Simon's quest to be part of an extremely stripy matching pair, until it dawns on him that our differences don't mean we can't be the best of friends.
Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field couldn’t be more different. No life lessons here, just the detailed riotous conversation between a cat and a frog about who is allowed to sit on what. Ridiculous rhymes and vivid illustrations make this a very funny book for ages 3 and up.
Books for primary school children
For slightly older readers, aged 5+, Where Snow Angels Go, the first children’s book from award-winning writer Maggie O’Farrell, is a delight – a modern fairy tale about kindness, strength of character and courage, with entrancing illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.
For children of 8 and above, a fast-paced page turner which cannot be beaten is Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner. A pre-war crime thriller told from the perspective of a 10 year old boy. It may be nearly 100 years old but it’s lost none of its appeal.
Aimed at the same age group, The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is perfect to get a child reading. Laugh out loud funny and moving at 100 miles an hour, it employs plenty of cartoon drawings in order to describe the fantasy treehouse and how the writer and illustrator came up with their latest book in just 24 hours!
Winding the clock back 50 years but with the same age group in mind, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by EL Konigsburg, is a beloved American classic but less well-known this side of the pond. It tells the story of two children who run away from home to hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and of their investigations into the museum’s surprisingly cheap new acquisition.
Books for secondary school children
The Life and Death of Rochester Sneath, by Humphry Berkeley, proves to be hilarious account of a prankster’s subversion of the dusty, fusty establishment. As a Cambridge undergrad, Berkeley invented a public school - Selhurst - appointed himself headmaster and entered into bizarre and often immensely funny correspondence with other school heads, composers, architects and other leading figures before he was eventually rumbled. Very good bedtime reading for early teens.
Another book for the same age group, Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle, depicts a very different world. The reader is transported to an inner-city estate and the gritty story of McKay. Crime, poverty, bullying and friendship; it’s a sure fire hit with teens embracing real world issues.
And one non-fiction recommendation for sportswear mad teens (and adults) and anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit, Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, is the inspirational true-life account of how the founder of Nike started small before taking over the world with his famous tick.
One for all ages
One final recommendation is Aesop's Fables. As famous as the fairy tales we all know, the stories are more than 2000 years old, but as relevant today as ever. The animal characters are enchanting for younger children while older readers can appreciate their significance as morality tales. Helpfully, there are lots of versions available aimed at different aged readers, so you can take your pick!