While children's favourites Alfie, Mog and Paddingon each have Christmas books out this month, we thought we'd put together a special round-up of some of the most interesting illustrated titles we've seen in recent weeks. There's something for everyone this season: a dog on stilts, a bear who wants to read, new-look Richard Scarry and two books about snow...
Sam & Dave Dig A Hole – Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, £11.99)
First up, in a second collaboration with writer Mac Barnett, illustrator Jon Klassen helps tell the story of two optimistic diggers who venture deeper underground in a search for something spectacular. As with Klassen's previous books – I Want My Hat Back and the more recent This Is Not My Hat – the visual humour is spot-on (keep an eye on that dog!) For me, he's one of the best illustrators currently working in children's publishing and, when paired with Barnett, the two of them clearly have a lot of fun. Here, the drawings are all earthy tones and soil colours – and Sam and Dave get progressively muddier as the book goes on. A lovely thing.
Bears Don't Read! – Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins, £12.99)
In the latest from Emma Chichester Clark, a bear finds a book in the forest and decides he wants to read it – so he tries to find someone who can help him. Unfortunately, to most of the people in the town he just looks like a massive bear holding a book so, with a sad inevitability, the police become involved and it looks like it might not happen. However, a young girl has sympathy with him and, well ... you'll have to read it to find out what happens. Chichester Clark's story is very funny and the imagery has a wry humour as well.
Snow – Sam Usher (Templar, £6.99)
The first of two snow-related books on our list, Sam Usher's story is all about having to wait to go outside and play, while everyone else is already tramping around in the white stuff. But when Grandad is finally ready to take his grandson outside, they find that it's not just boys and girls who have got to the park before them. Usher's engaging style is very much in the tradition of Quentin Blake (his characters have similar upturned noses!), and there's a similiar sensibility to the story as well, which is no bad thing.
No Such Thing – Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books/NoBrow, £11.99)
Published in time for Hallowe'en, Ella Bailey's lovely book features Georgia, a young girl determined to find out just who is responsible for scribbling on her bedroom walls, pinching her socks and knocking all manner of things over. Bailey's illustrations are full of wide-eyed character and expression with plenty of detail in each scene to keep keener eyes occupied. Georgia also happens to live in a charmingly messy house, so there's a touch of realism (and sympathy with parents) about it all as well. Incidentally, Flying Eye Books is NoBrow's childrens imprint.
Paul Smith for Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go – Richard Scarry (HarperCollins, £25)
Now this is an interesting one. At £25 this isn't going to be unwrapped by that many five year-olds this Christmas; instead, the likely audience is those who are keen on a smart new edition of a children's classic, in this case readers who have fond memories of Richard Scarry's book, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, the first time around (e.g. the late 70s). Sir Paul Smith, himself a big fan of Scarry's line, has designed the slipcase, covers and endpapers and introduces the book. It's a lovely edition – but clearly for fans who want to celebrate the book's 40th anniverary rather than become aquainted with it for the first time. A limited edition is of course also available and, unsurprisingly, looks great (a pop-up scene, three press-out-and-make vehicles, five art prints contained within) but at £200 is for Scarry collector's only. (Press-out-and-make vehicles though...).
The Lavender Blue Dress – Aidan Moffat, illustrated by Emmeline Pidgen (Cargo Publishing, £13.99)
By far the sweetest story in this collection, the debut children's book from singer and musician Aidan Moffat also has a fantastic moral at its heart. As Mabel prepares for the school's Christmas ball, she's aware that many of her friends will be wearing new dresses and that her parents don't have the money to buy her one. Yet, unbeknown to her, her family are working together to give her the perfect dress for the party. Emmeline Pidgen's soft pencil illustrations accentuate the warmth of the story, which delivers a great Christmas message, too. There's even an accompanying CD which, for fans of Moffat's work which perhaps isn't so suitable for little ones (this dad included) is also a treat to listen to. A teaser for the book is here.
We've seen a few of the German editions from Little Gestalten, the Berlin-based publisher's new childrens imprint, but this is one of the first titles to appear in English (it was originally published in French in 2013). Plip has an otherwise regularly-shaped head but, when it starts to rain incessantly, he decides to become an 'umbrella man'. As it turns out, he has some issues of his own to work through before he can truly enjoy himself, let alone the weather. This is a strange, ever-so-slightly bleak tale which looks great on the page – lots of space, just three colours throughout from Thomas Bass – and in its own way deals with some fairly complex issues. Interesting also to see a visual arts publisher venturing into the children's market.
Snow – Walter de la Mare, illustrated by Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, £12.99/£6.99).
Set to de la Mare's short poem, which featured in his 1924 collection, Peacock Pie, this is a beautiful rendering of a classically-imagined Christmas. All the scenes and characters are depicted in browns, greys, reds and blacks while the dominant colour is of course a blanket of white that covers everything. Caroline Rabei's illustrations are very warming and full of detail – perfect to pore over on a cold, wintry day.
And finally, from the duo behind the madcapped caper that is The Weasel Puffin Unicorn Baboon Pig Lobster Race comes Dog on Stilts. Medium Dog is, well, unhappy with being just 'medium' – and so longs to be noticable. So after a night in the shed he bangs together some stilts so he can be as tall as a towering tree. As with their debut, Mackinnon's artwork is full of invention (he's clearly a fan of odd angles and perspectives) and, combined with the character designs, this new book makes for a busy feast for the eyes. Again, as with many memorable children's picturebooks, there's a traditional message at the heart of a crazy adventure.