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Best Books This Month – December 2023

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best childrens books december 2023

It’s easy to feel lost in the flood of so many new children’s books available. Each month, our review panel reads scores of new books and we highlight five of our recently published favourites.

Check out our Review Panel’s top books for you to read in December 2023.

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Eoin McLaughlin

This is a delightful tale of two characters, Tortoise and Hedgehog who are experiencing their first Christmas and who do not know what Christmas is. Many children will be familiar with the characters from the story ‘The Hug’ and other stories in this series and will welcome their familiarness. Exploring what Christmas is all about will resonate with younger children – the excitement of presents, food and decorations all feature.

There is opportunity for some more in-depth discussion with children about each of the aspects of Christmas shared by the other animals in the story – for example, Fox’s focus on presents that are all for him and the story climax of the importance of being with those we love.

The illustrations invite children to look closely at each page – particularly to pick out the little white mouse, who has his own particular excitement and engagement with the trappings of Christmas. Children will enjoy retelling the story from the pictures, developing the detail of the story that is not in the main text but found in the illustrations. This is a super addition to any early years class collection, a lovely book to read aloud at school or at home.

Suzy Senior
 & Lucy Semple

‘Santerella’ is a delightful and whimsical tale that fuses the enchantment of a fairy tale with the warmth of the Christmas spirit, making it an excellent addition to primary school libraries and a superb choice for festive classroom reading.

Suzy Senior’s expertise in creating engaging narratives for young audiences shines through in ‘Santerella’. This book takes the reader on a globetrotting adventure with Cinderella as she steps in to save Christmas, offering a fresh twist on two beloved narratives. The story encourages resilience and kindness, presenting Cinderella not just as a damsel in distress but as a proactive heroine ready to tackle challenges head-on.

Lucy Semple’s illustrations bring a lively and humorous dimension to the story, capturing the joy and the unexpected mash-up of Christmas and fairy tale elements with vibrancy. The illustrations will captivate children’s attention and spark imagination, making the read-aloud experience incredibly enjoyable.

For teachers, ‘Santerella’ opens up a world of teaching opportunities. It aligns well with traditional tales, character studies, and discussions about cultural celebrations. It is equally valuable for challenging stereotypes, fitting into lessons about equality and empowerment. Its rhythmic and rhyming text can be used in literacy lessons focused on poetic form and sound patterns, aiding in developing phonemic awareness and reading fluency. ‘Santerella’ is a must-have for educators looking to enrich their classroom with a story that is as heartwarming as it is empowering. It is a reminder that sometimes, the best gifts are not those wrapped in bows but the chance to rewrite our stories for the better.

Bill Bryson
 & Emma Young

This is a book jam-packed full of scientific fact and fascinating, often amusing detail. It is presented in an appealing way with ‘bubbles’ of information spread across each page so that the reader does not feel overwhelmed with the amount of content squeezed onto every page.

Bill Bryson’s chatty, informal tone enables new concepts to be accessible as he takes the reader on an enthralling journey around the human body. Starting small with information about cells and DNA, we then journey through the body starting at the head, stopping off for a look at the senses and then travelling inside to explore the internal organs. Kids will love the page about poo and wind!

All topics are covered, including puberty and death- in an honest but approachable style. As well as scientific facts, there are nuggets of historical anecdotes which add interest, amusement and amazement. Who knew that Chevalier Jackson collected things that had been swallowed – a collection that included a toy trumpet, a meat skewer and miniature binoculars?

This is a book that covers every aspect of the human body; it uses comparative facts to allow readers to fully appreciate the scale – a pair of lungs would cover a tennis court if they were smoothed out. The illustrations are eye-catching and add interest whilst not being overly technical. It is great to see a diverse representation of scientists .This is the sort of book that kids will dip in and out of; it will inform curious minds, help with homework, provide amusement and add a sense of awe around the fascination topic of the human body. A must for the school library!

Guy Bass
 & Alessia Trunfio
Chapter book

This is gripping science fiction for a new generation. Guy Bass takes the idea of robots programmed to serve humanity and extrapolates what might happen when some of them revolt. What would be the driving force of a robot society? Would they, could they, ever become indistinguishable from humans?

The action happens on Somewhere 513, a planet prepared for human habitation, but now in the control of robots. Their original Maker is long gone and only her children survive, in hiding, the other humans having fled. So what are Paige and Gnat to do? And how will finding the King of the Robots (K1-NG) help?

Shot through with humour, interspersed with illustrations that could be stills from a film, and brim-full of action, this is a story that zings off the page. I loved the chapter introductions, giving us extracts from ‘Memoir of a Mechanical Major’, or one of the Fargone Corporation’s adverts, or the legally-worded laws (‘suggestions’) governing robot existence. I loved the characterisation too, especially of Mortem the shovel-bot, as well as the way hearts (and cores) are won over, not by force but by kindness and sacrifice. I very much look forward to reading the next instalment and, meantime, will certainly be recommending this to Year 4 upwards.

M.G. Leonard
 &  Penny Neville-Lee
Chapter book

Perfect for reading in the darker, winter months, The Ice Children is a story guaranteed to chill and thrill.

Like a modern day fairy tale, with echoes of Hans Christian Anderson, there are vivid descriptions of snow, ice and cold as our heroine bravely races against time to save her brother. Found, early one December morning in the rose garden of the local park, Finn is frozen solid and statue-like on a plinth with a mysterious rhyme carved into its base. Rushing to be by his side, his sister Bianca and their parents are at a loss to understand what has happened and, most importantly, how to rescue Finn from his icy imprisonment.

As the grown-ups around her deliberate and procrastinate, Bianca decides to take action and thus begins a fast-paced, engrossing tale of her attempts to end the endless winter that appears to have her home town within its icy grip. As more children are found frozen, Bianca realises that there is something that links them: a mysterious, silver, shiny book. Bianca has to race against time and has to trust her instincts when all around her are dismissing her theories.

This is a great book for sending out a ‘believe in yourself’ message. Bianca is feisty and determined and has the courage to do what she knows to be right- a really empowering message to young readers. M.G. Leonard employs magical storytelling to weave an important message into this tale. When Bianca gets close to solving the mystery, she is able to highlight the plight of the planet and to convey that the children of today have the power to make a difference to the environment. Bianca realises that Winter is in peril because of global warming and know that she, and her generation, must act swiftly: ‘We may be young, but there are millions of us on this planet. We are the future, and we can make a difference.’ And so, Bianca saves the threatened Ice Queen and M.G. Leonard inspires her readers to become custodians of the Earth.

This is a story that will touch the heart; relationships are gloriously portrayed, settings are magically described and the action is fast and furious. A compelling read for children and adults alike.

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Many thanks to our review panel members Jane Carter, Suzanne Booth, Jo Clark and Jane Rew for reviewing this month’s selection.



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