Timid by Harry Woodgate, Little Tiger, £7.99
Timmy loves performing, but their inner lion is shy, drowning out confidence with roars of self-doubt. Practicing for the big play with schoolfriend Nia, they learn some different ways to cope with anxiety – and how to reassure the scared inner lion so Timmy can burst on stage, ready to dazzle. A gorgeously flamboyant picture book with a non-binary protagonist and a gentle, supportive message.
Cloud Babies by Eoin Colfer and Chris Judge, Walker, £12.99
Erin has always spotted animals in the clouds, even when she gets ill and has to spend time in hospital. But when she’s better, she finds her her “school” and “hospital” worlds have moved apart – until her parents and teacher help her bring them together, and share her “cloud babies” with her friends her too. This touching picture-book account of imagination, illness and recovery draws on Judge’s own experience of supporting a child through treatment for leukaemia.
Colors, Colors Everywhere by Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai, Two Hoots, £14.99
When a little girl starts painting in her notebook, her imagination makes a wilder leap with each colour; a bright blue tree frog rides a red hot air balloon, drifting over a pink flamingo lake before a clash with crows requires a rainbow-spotted helicopter rescue. Lush illustrations with cut-out details and unfolding flaps take readers on a joyous journey through Donaldson’s rhyming text.
Carnival of the Clocks by Nick Sharratt, Barrington Stoke, £6.99
School finished hours ago, but Class One are still gathered in the dark playground, holding lanterns in the shape of clocks. What’s happening? This intensely atmospheric little book chronicles the annual Burning of the Clocks march in Brighton to mark the winter solstice – filled with the excitement of a shared ritual after dark, it’s a perfect winter read for 4+.
The Grumpus by Alex T Smith, Macmillan, £14.99
The grinchy Grumpus doesn’t like much, except Brussels sprouts. When Yuletide causes a shortage of his favorite veg, he decides to visit the North Pole and enact a Dastardly, Dreadful Plan to stop Christmas – until the new friends he makes en route bring about a change of heart. Starring a cuddlier version of the Krampus, and bursting with Smith’s characteristic extravagant, full color illustrations, this handsome hardback is ideal for sharing with children of 4+ in the runup to the big day.
The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre, Faber, £20
A dauntless goose, a jar of dreams, a class full of magical creatures and a lonely boy who bonds with an injured bird: this compendium of comforting stories for 7+ features work from a stellar range of authors including Emma Carroll, Natasha Farrant, Michael Mann and Rashmi Sirdeshpande, all illustrated in glorious colour.
Operation Nativity by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Katie Kear, Usborne, £12.99
Oscar and his little sister Molly don’t usually spend Christmas at their grandparents’ stately home, but this year the whole family is off to Hampshire – only to be swept up in Grandmother’s ambitious nativity plans. As if that isn’t enough, the archangel Gabriel has crash-landed in Chipping Bottom and let Joseph, Mary, a shepherd, a wise man and a donkey wander off in completely the wrong place and time. To save (the first) Christmas, Oscar and Molly must help him corral the fugitives, without anyone else spotting what they’re up to. This exuberantly silly, irresistible festive caper for 8+ is full of sly, fond family observations, with a poignant thread of loss woven through the fun.
Bright New World by Cindy Forde, illustrated by Bethany Lord, Welbeck, £18.99
Amid frightening news reports and gathering despair, this sumptuously illustrated nonfiction book for 8+ is filled with bold hope, a vision of a near future in which changed human habits, from eating to energy consumption, travel to architecture, have addressed the world’s most pressing problems. Beautiful and inspiring, it includes clear depictions of the perils facing the planet, but also how the solutions to each might be realized, alongside profiles of leading environmental innovators and young activists.
Midwinter Burning by Tanya Landman, Walker, £7.99
Alfie Wright is an outsider, shunned by his classmates, unloved by his mum. When he’s evacuated to Devon to stay on a farm with gentle, eccentric Aunt Bell, he finds life easier and kinder – and when he makes a local friend, Snidge, he’s happier than he’s ever been before. But there’s something strange about Snidge – something that seems to be connected with the Midwinter Burning ritual at the stone ring on the cliffs … A thrilling, compelling timeslip novel for 9+ from a Carnegie-winning author, with echoes of Goodnight Mr Tom and Stig of the Dump.
Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello, Simon & Schuster, £7.99
Trey Anderson’s family run Wonderland, a much-loved Black-owned bookshop. Ariel Spencer doesn’t get on with handsome, popular Trey, but she needs money for art tuition, so when a holiday spot opens up at Wonderland, she takes the job – and finds herself drawing closer to Trey in more ways than one. But Wonderland is under pressure from greedy developers – can Ariel and Trey team up to save it from closing before Christmas? A sweetly seasonal YA romance, interwoven with thoughtful commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of community.
Monochrome by Jamie Costello, Little, Brown, £8.99
When Grace wakes to discover she can only see the world in black, white and grey, it isn’t long until the rest of the world succumbs to the “Monochrome Effect”. Caused by microplastics pollution, its impact is more than depressing; as accidents multiply, birds die and harvests fail, society teeters on the brink of breakdown. Then Grace sees a flash of red, and is invited to enter a research program that promises to reverse the greyout – only to discover layers of conspiracy and a terrible truth about the origin of Monochrome itself. This thought-provoking 14+ eco-thriller, set in an all-too-convincing near future, examines the catastrophic impact of underregulated capitalism on both planet and people.
Toxic by Natasha Devon, UCLan, £8.99
Llewella (Loo) stands out at school: an academic overachiever, she has a successful blog and a coveted lead in the yearly play. Socially, though, she’s less comfortable – battling an anxiety disorder, she’s never had a best friend. When glamorous Aretha arrives, Loo falls swiftly under her spell her; thrilled to be singled out by the only other biracial student at school, she’s keen to be as supportive as she can, even when Aretha’s demands her start to make her uneasy. Can Loo find the confidence to assert herself? An acutely observed portrait of an abusive “friendship”, Devon’s YA debut makes unsettling, compulsive reading.