Books for Christmas 2016 - Magic, Murder and Clover Moon - middle grade mayhem for Christmas

This has definitely been the year of 'middle-grade', awesome stories for those 9+ confident readers who devour great books, but aren't quite ready for the gritty reality of teen titles. For most of us, what we're talking about here are "proper children's books" - and every year we're on the lookout for new classics to take their place alongside The Secret Garden and Swallows and Amazons, Stormbreaker and Skulduggery Pleasant.

Technology's relentless march seems to threaten reading for pleasure at every turn, and yet access to original stories and the highest quality books just for the fun of it has never been more urgent. Stories help all of us, and young people in particular, to navigate an increasingly complex and bewildering world. We grown-ups hold the key to children's reading, because our sharing of books put down deep roots of literacy and a love of stories is born. Just five minutes of reading a day with your child is powerful and transformative.

The world of middle-grade is about as competitive as it gets in publishing, but the upshot is that some of our best books anywhere in the world can be found right here. And here are our picks for Christmas. Let's go!

Cogheart - Peter Bunzl
When 13-year-old Lily's inventor father vanishes after a Zeppelin crash, Lily is determined to hunt down the truth behind his disappearance, helped by Robert, the local clockmaker's son, and her wily mechanical fox Malkin. But shadowy figures are closing in and treachery lurks among the smoky spires of London - along with a life-changing secret.

Be prepared to be swept away by airships and flabbergasted by dastardly plots in this extraordinary and wildly imaginative debut, bursting with invention and adventure.

A Most Magical Girl - Karen Foxlee
Magical machines, wizards, witches, mysterious underworlds, a race against time - and two most magical girls. Annabel Grey has been brought up to be a very proper Victorian young lady. But being 'proper' isn't always easy - especially when you can sometimes see marvellous (as well as terrifying) things in puddles.

But parlour tricks such as these are nothing compared to the world that Annabel is about to enter. After the rather sudden departure of her mother, Annabel is sent to live with her aunts. They claim to be Shoreditch witches, and from a very old family line of them too. They're keen to introduce Annabel to their world of transformation, potions and flying broomsticks (which seem to have strong personalities of their own) but are horrified when Annabel announces not only does she not know any magic, young ladies shouldn't believe in such things.

This is an original, sparkling and enchanting story - full of dark magic, complex plot,humour and adventure. Definitely one to curl up with in front of something warm!

Beetle Boy - MG Leonard
One of our favourite books of the year, this tale of Darkus, his missing Dad, and a mystery for which beetles hold the key is both original and totally absorbing.

Darkus is miserable. His dad has disappeared, and now he is living next door to the most disgusting neighbours ever. A giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue. But can the two solve the mystery of his dad's disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery? A coffee-mug mountain, home to a million insects, could provide the answer - if Darkus and Baxter are brave enough to find it...

"...a fizzing, delightful debut" - Piers Torbay

Mistletoe and Murder - Robin Stevens
Every so often a series of books comes out which become the new 'must read' amongst children, and the Murder Most Unladylike series is a definite candidate, with children eagerly coming in to get the latest book. At its heart is the pairing of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, two 1930s schoolgirls from very different backgrounds who develop an unlikely bond - and a penchant for solving murderous crimes.

In the latest story 'Mistletoe and Murder', Daisy and Hazel are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms - but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College. Three nights before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. But was it an accident. Before long, the girls are up to their necks in intrigue and mystery, irritating grown-ups and very real danger. This is a must for fans - of which we know loads!

Murder in Midwinter - Fleur Hitchcock
Talking of superb murder mysteries for children, we love this from children's author (and friend of Mostly Books) Fleur Hitchcock. Sat on the top of a bus days before Christmas, Maya sees a couple arguing violently in the middle of a crowded Regent Street. They see her watching, she looks away, and the woman disappears. Maya goes to the police, who shrug and send her away.

Then a body turns up...Now convinced she is a vital witness to a crime, the police send Maya into hiding in rural Wales. She resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery. Then the snow comes and no one can get out. But what if someone can still get in? Thrilling and twisting, and utterly satisfying - don't miss Fleur's other book out in paperback 'Bus Stop Baby' as well.

Clover Moon - Jacqueline Wilson
With over a hundred books behind her, and her status as a national hero of children's reading, Jacqueline Wilson's place in literature's pantheon is assured - and yet she still continues to write powerful novels, and in 'Clover Moon' introduces us to a brave new heroine to fall in love with.

Clover Moon's imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage - and the chance - to break free? 

Finding Black Beauty - Lou Kuenzler
Told from the point of view of a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to become a groom, this is the other side of the classic horse story Black Beauty.

Aspiring groom Jo comes to love Beauty and when they are separated she travels to London to find him - on the way solving the mystery of her long-lost mother. A sweeping tale of a young girl and her love for a horse, and the circumstances that divide them - in a wonderful gifty hardback edition.

Henry and the Guardians of the Lost - Jenny Nimmo
Jenny Nimmo's first book - The Snow Spider - was published in 1986, (this year available in a special - and sparkly - 30th anniversary edition!) but we've gone for the Charlie Bone author's latest fantasy offering 'Henry and the Guardians of the Lost'.

A harmless-looking yellow letter arrives at Henry's home, and within 10 minutes of the devastating news it contains, Henry is on the road - because he has a secret, and powerful forces are after him to get it. Desperate, his only hope is the protection of the Guardians of the Lost. Fast-paced, wildly imaginative - and a great new series.

Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor - Rick Riordan
Thor's hammer is missing again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon - the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds. But this time the hammer isn't just lost, it has fallen into enemy hands. If Magnus Chase and his friends can't retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn.

Unfortunately, the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer's return is the gods' worst enemy, Loki - and the price he wants is very high...

The Magnus Chase novels are doing for norse mythology what Percy Jackson did for the Greeks...

The Return of the Young Prince - A.G. Roemmers
The 'Little Prince' eventually became the young prince, and no longer content with his tiny planet, he sets off once again to explore the universe. And so begins another remarkable journey into the secrets and joys of living a meaningful life...

There have been many sequels to 'classic' children's books in recent years (some more successful than others). The Little Prince is such a cherished classic that we fear too many people will place too many expectations on this sequel, and instead miss a wonderful story in its own right, which needs to be approach with an open mind...and heart! As with the original, this is a fable about choosing to live a fulfilling life, and we think Antoine de St ExupĂ©ry would have approved.

The Song from Somewhere Else - AF Harrold and Levi Pinfold
We are huge fans of AF Harrold at Mostly Books, and not (just) because his beard is one that makes Philip Ardagh redouble his efforts. Harrold brings a poet's eye for language with a special talent for storytelling, and a surprising amount of edginess that really pulls you into the story.

Harrold is also blessed with working with some wonderful illustrators ('The Imaginary' featured Emily Gravett) and this is a sublime partnership with Levi Pinfold, whose illustrations add powerfully to the story, one of friendship, compassion and courage in the face of danger.

When Nick Underbridge rescues Frank from bullies one afternoon, she's not sure what to think. After all, no one likes Nick. He's big, he's weird and he smells - or so everyone in Frank's class thinks. And yet, there's something nice about Nick's house. There's strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever. But there's more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn't the only one keeping secrets.

The Song of Seven - Tonke Dragt
Deep in the woods, in a crooked house full of stairs, a young boy is kept prisoner by his uncle. He cannot meet other children, or have any friends. He holds the key to a secret.

Frans the schoolteacher, on the other hand, invents incredible stories of perilous deeds, shipwrecks, desert islands, and haunted castles to entertain his pupils, in which he is the hero. Then one stormy evening, a mysterious letter blows onto his doormat, summoning him to a meeting. Suddenly, Frans is on a real-life mission, one in which he will learn the secret of the Seven Ways, find seven allies and make a fearsome enemy...

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