Children’s books about Christmas, mythology and adventures are among the top titles available from small independent publishers this autumn.
Despite lockdown and an uncertain retail market, many of the smaller children’s publishers are hoping for a boost in sales with their festive titles, which include The Girl Who Stole the Stars by Corrina Campbell, published by Little Door Book, and Leah’s Star by Margaret Bateson Hill (Alanna Max), which tells the nativity story from the point of view of the innkeeper’s daughter. The Salariya Book Company has two Christmas-themed books out this autumn: Little Bear and the Silver Star by Jane Hissey, and Billy and the Balloons by Elizabeth Dale and Patrick Corrigan.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a big dollop of cosiness, and Chitra Soundar’s You’re Snug With Me, which combines wintry landscapes with a comforting message, is “flying off the shelves” ever since the book’s illustrator Poonam Mistry was shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, said its publisher Lantana.
David Fickling Books sales and marketing manager Phil Earle says Owl or Pussycat by Michael Morpurgo and Polly Dunbar is a “nostalgic, autobiographical tale of first love”, while Ken Wilson Max from Alanna Max hopes Lenny and Max, a book about a boy and his dog, finds its way under many a tree this year.
Another cute story for the smallest of book fans is Where’s Baby Elephant? by Ali Khodai, a lift-the-flap title with interlinked illustrations, so as the reader turns the page, a lion’s mane turns into the spikes of a hedgehog, and so on. Where’s Baby Elephant? is published by Tiny Owl, which also recommends The Snowman and the Sun, a tale about what happens when a snowman melts.
Otter Barry Books’ top Christmas pick is The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes. Morris won the CILIP Kate Greenway Medal last year for her work on Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words. Publisher Janetta Otter Barry also recommends Mrs Noah’s Garden, a title written by Morris and illustrated by James Mayhew, and Joseph Coelho’s verse tale The Girl Who Became a Tree, illustrated by Kate Milner.
Another poetry pick came from The Emma Press, which said its Bicki-Books would make a perfect stocking filler. Bicki-Books are collections of six postcard-sized picture books, each one containing an illustrated poem. They were originally published in Latvian by liels un mazs, and each Bicki-Book is illustrated by a different artist.
Poetry recommendations from Troika are Cherry Moon by Zaro Weil (winner of this year’s CliPPa award for children’s poetry) and Saturdays at the Imaginarium by Shauna Darling Robertson.
In Scotland and Ireland, publishers are predicting Christmas sales success for books that celebrate nature and local folklore. Floris Books has created An Animal Atlas of Scotland with debut illustrator Anders Frang, and The Legend of the First Unicorn, a traditional Scottish tale by Lari Don and Nataša Ilinčić; while Currach Books has produced The Enchanted Lake, a new collection of Sinead De Valera’s classic Irish fairytales.
Garry O’Sullivan, m.d. of Currach Books, said there has been a “real resurgence” in appreciation for Irish folklore, and that The Enchanted Lake would appeal to “young minds open to stories filled with mystical energy and timeless wisdom”. In similar vein, Little Island’s Savage Her Reply, by Deirdre Sullivan pictured above, is a retelling of “The Children of Lir”, an Irish fairytale.
Publishers in England who have books about mythology on offer include Magic Cat—whose book The Dragon Ark, about dragon mythology from every continent, is “ultimate escapism for Christmas”—and Nobrow. The illustrated book specialist suggests A Journey Through Greek Myths by Marchella Ward and Sander Berg and Leo and The Gorgon’s Curse, the latest in Joe Todd-Stanton’s Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. The Secret Lives of Mermaids by Professor Tola is also one of its picks.
In terms of non-fiction, inspiring stories and beautifully illustrated titles feature strongly. b small books’ How Do Bridges Work?, a follow-up to How Does a Lighthouse Work?, answers questions about how bridges are made and what the first bridges looked like, and is “educational in a beautiful wrapper”, according to founder Sam Hutchison. Another illustrated title from Magic Cat is Slow Down, which encourages readers to discover the joy of nature on their doorstep.
Jazzmine Breary of Jacaranda Books said its biography of Muhammad Ali, by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson, told in prose and verse, is one for the whole family to enjoy. Lantana says I Am Brown, by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat, is “empowering and joyful”. David Fickling Books is hoping Sir Paul Nurse’s What Is Life, a “small-format hardback with huge ideas”, will be customers’ non-fiction choice.
For many publishers, adventurous fiction was their top choice for this Christmas. Head of Zeus imprint Zephyr highlighted Witch by Finbar Hawkins and The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth, while Oneworld backed Monstruous Devices by Damien Love.
The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty is published by Guppy Books and Welsh publisher Firefly said Jennifer Killick’s Crater Lake, a young horror tale, and Catherine Fisher’s “magical” novel The Midnight Swan were its picks for the festive season.
Finally, When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten has adventure and heart, said publisher Pushkin. “At a time when children are being separated from their friends because of Covid-19, I think this is a story with universal appeal—and where better to be this Christmas than on Clara’s tropical island, with delicious mangoes to enjoy?”