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Best Books This Month – December 2021

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Best Books This Month - December 2021

It’s easy to feel lost in the flood of so many new children’s books available. Each month, we pick five of our recently published favourites.

Check out our Review Panel’s top picks for you to read in December 2021.

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Lucy Hope
Chapter book

Fledgling is a real treat for those who love a gothic story full of thrills and atmospheric settings.

Taking place at the turn of the century in 1900, everything about Cassie’s life is remote; from the rock-edge house in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps to her aloof and emotionally distant parents and a gravely ill grandmother. When a strange cherub-like creature appears after a storm, a series of strange events are set into motion and a shocking family secret is brought to light.

With owls and angels, menacing storm birds, an eerie forest setting and a family mystery to uncover, there’s plenty of tension around each corner in Lucy Hope’s debut narrative. Taxidermy animals and strange inventions furnish the inside of Cassie’s home, while outside in the forest there are storms and strange birds and all the noises of the forest. There’s a sense of darkness gathering throughout the story and a brilliantly gothic cast of characters and setting. The story feels surreal in places, while never losing the thread of hope pulled long by Cassie and the cherub and finished with a warming message about love and family.

Alex T. Smith

There’s no feeling quite like cosying up with the next instalment of a much loved story – and Alex T. Smith’s Winston books offer an almost month-long delight of a festive tale.

A cross between a Christmas story and an advent calendar, the Winston books are charming full-colour hardbacks structured into 24½ chapters – one for each day of advent. Each day’s offering includes the next chapter of the story and easy-to-follow instructions for an accompanying craft to make or activity to try. New this year, How Winston Came Home for Christmas is the second Winston story and follows Winston the mouse on a quest to find a long lost friend.

Themes of kindness, connecting with loved ones, recovering what is lost and valuing friendships abide – all perfect for Christmas time – and the daily activities range from art and baking to giving gifts to others and finding out about festive traditions from different cultures.

This is a gorgeous gift book that will be treasured year after year as a treasured festive tradition for young readers.

Julia Donaldson & Victoria Sandøy

A gentle tale of a famous seasonal traditional is offered in The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandøy.

The words were originally commissioned by The Poetry Society for their annual poetic welcome to Norway’s gifted Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, and have since been beautifully illustrated by Norwegian artist Victoria Sandøy and presented in hardback.

The gentle rhyming verse tells the journey of the Christmas tree itself, from its origins in a deep and snowy wood to its final destination in Trafalgar Square. Coupled with pictures that accentuate the joy of children and animals at each stage of the tree’s journey, this makes for a comforting bedtime story that refocuses attention on the aspects of Christmas that become treasured in our hearts long after the season is over.

William Grill

This is the true story of Bandoola – an Asian timber elephant of Myanmar, which was for a time a colony of the British Empire. The story focuses on Bandoola’s adult life around the time of World War 2, when elephants were used to help move and haul hardwood teak. The elephants at this time were looked after ‘Oozies’; men who cared for the elephants, but perhaps in a way that didn’t always show these majestic and intelligent animals the respect that they deserved.

Things changed when James Howard Williams arrived to work for the timber company, and soon saw the true nature of the hard-working elephants. He began to find different ways to work with all the elephants, developing mutual respect between man and beast, leading him to be known as ‘Elephant Bill’. World War 2 eventually arrived In Myanmar, and the people of the country were forced to leave. Bandoola and Williams led 53 elephants and over 200 refugees to safety in Northern India, on an unbelievable and treacherous journey that saw them scale mountains and tested them to the limit. This incredible journey showed an astonishing trust between humans and animals, with a remarkable level of understanding and bravery that saw them reach their destination in one piece.

Having enjoyed William Grill’s compelling re-telling of Shackleton’s Journey in his wonderfully sensitive yet engaging style, it was a joy to have the opportunity to read another. Grill has a talent for finding incredible stories; stories with historical importance and that show the best (and sometimes the worst) of humanity. There are clear strong themes of conservation and the environmental impact of human behaviours, along with reminding us of the utter respect we need to have for all animals, particularly as we learn of the dwindling numbers of Asian elephants still living in the wild. At the heart of the story is the legacy of one special elephant. Bandoola had a lasting effect on Williams, who through his time with the elephants learnt that humans could live side by side with animals, based on respect and understanding.

‘Bandoola’ is visually and literarily compelling, powerful, and thought-provoking; providing a new angle among the range of WW2 book options.

Michael Morpurgo
 & Robin Shaw
Chapter book

This is a new novelised adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ classic story (also available here), bringing all the magic of the original tale into a narrative form.

A boy named James is so excited when snow arrives on his farm that he rushes outside to build the snowman he has been longing to create. Wonderfully, the snowman comes to life and gives James a magical adventure that he will never forget. This cherished story that never loses its magical appeal, is bound to be a favourite for many to curl up with this Christmas.

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