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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The best new children’s books to buy for Christmas 2021

The classics always make popular Christmas presents – and there is no rest for Winnie-the-Pooh this year, who stars in a new spin-off tale. Once There Was a Bear by Jane Riordan (Farshore, £14.99) is the prequel to A A  Milne’s original stories, taking us back to when Pooh was purchased for the baby Christopher Robin. (“Once upon a time there was a bear sat on a shelf in a very grand department store called Harrods.”) Milne scholars may choke on their honey, but Riordan’s version, illustrated by Mark Burgess, has enough charm to get the cash tills ringing.

The Secret Garden (Nosy Crow, £14.99) has also had a revamp. “Mary Lennox was born under a jewel-coloured sky in a land of dusty gold,” begins Geraldine McCaughrean’s picture-book edition, which bottles Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel into 96 pages, galloping through all the key narrative events.

And for older readers, in The Primrose Railway Children (Puffin, £12.99), Jacqueline Wilson reimagines E Nesbit’s classic through a new set of children – Phoebe, Perry and Becks – who move to the country when their father mysteriously disappears. There is plenty of drama, and a strong dose of Wilsonian reality. The author has ditched the fairy-tale element of the original: in her “modern” version, she explains, there are no “easy solutions”.

Little Bear by Richard Jones (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is the enchanting story of a boy who finds a tiny polar bear at the bottom of his garden. As their bond grows, so does the bear, until the boy accepts that it is time for his friend to go home. For very young readers more interested in touch than dramatic arc, My Magical Santa (Campbell, £6.99) is a joyously festive board book, with push-and-pull mechanisms to keep little paws busy. (“On a magical sleigh with his gifts piled up high,/ Santa set off as the elves waved goodbye.”)

For children of seven-plus, Three Little Vikings by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots, £12.99) is the triumphant tale of three young Viking girls, who must save their village when their Chieftain refuses to listen: “‘Chieftain,’ Helga said, ‘there’s something scary outside!’ ‘Nonsense!’ the Chieftain replied. ‘I know that is just a thunderstorm… and I know best!’” In Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals (Walker, £10.99), a debut novel by illustrator Emma Chichester Clark, a young girl determines to save a bear cub stolen by ruthless zoo-keepers. This is a fast-paced story, told with the unhurried charm of Chichester Clark’s picture books.

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