Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right This year's best books for kids

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Photo © Rob GreigAnimalium Katie Scott & Jenny Broom. Big Picture Press, £20 (gift edition with ten prints £50).Age 9+ Animalium Part natural history encyclopaedia, part coffee-table art tome, this huge volume is what Darwin might have produced had he partnered with an outrageously talented anatomical artist. Pour a mug of cocoa and get lost in the sumptuous drawings and eye-opening evolutionary science. Taster ‘The evolutionary link [between reptiles and birds] is so close, in fact, that crocodiles are more closely related to early kinds of birds than they are to lizards!’Buy 'Animalium'
Bears Don’t Read! Emma Chichester Clark. HarperCollins, £12.99.Age 3+ The wonderful illustrations by the creator of the Blue Kangaroo may be what initially draws you to her new book, but the tale within soon proves to be just as enchanting. Struck by a case of existentialism, George the bear discovers that books can transport you from the humdrum to something much bigger. The story is a heartfelt paean to the power of the written word to open up new worlds for us, with a subtle encouragement for little ones learning to read that persistence with letters brings untold rewards. It’s imbued with the daydreamy qualities of childhood – what child wouldn’t be thrilled by the idea of a book-loving bear living at the bottom of their garden? One to treasure. Taster ‘Each [word], even the tiny ones, is saying something, he thought. If only I knew what it was…’Buy 'Bears Don't Read!'
Snow Walter de la Mare & Carolina Rabei. Faber & Faber, £6.99.Age 1+ Anyone taking a cursory flick through this picture book will soon be struck by the unusually lyrical quality of the words. That’s because they are from Walter de la Mere’s 1913 poem of the title (published in children’s poetry collection, ‘Peacock Pie’), and are a breath of fresh wintry air compared with less subtle children’s books. Carolina Rabei’s new illustrations match the gentle tone of the verse, adding a playful quality and sticking to a limited colour palette that keeps the visuals concise. Full of the wonders of nature, this is a soothing read for quiet wind-downs. Taster ‘No breath of wind, No gleam of sun – Still the white snow Whirls softly down.’Buy 'Snow'
Blown Away Rob Biddulph. HarperCollins, £12.99.Age 3-6 This debut picture book packs a mighty graphic punch, as you might expect from an author whose day job is art director of the Observer Magazine. Told in captivating rhyme, with plenty of jokes sprinkled through the text and illustrations, Biddulph’s tale is a travelling adventure. A gang of Arctic pals is swept away to a tropical jungle, where wanderlust is soon replaced by longing for home comforts (an igloo, a hot water bottle and a lava lamp, in Penguin Blue’s case). Their new fair-weather pals help them get back, but is that a cheeky stowaway in the dinghy? Taster ‘Oh what a fix! Oh my! Oh me! The gang are flying out to sea!’Buy 'Blown Away'
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Photo © Rob GreigLucky David Mackintosh. HarperCollins, £12.99.Age 4-7 It’s rare that a picture book gets both the text and illustration so right, and this engaging tale nails it to the wall. It all starts with a well-meaning promise from our unnamed protagonist’s mum, that there’s a surprise in store at dinner tonight. You can almost see his little mind bursting with giddy anticipation, as he tries to guess what it might be, with increasingly outrageous conclusions. The excitement bubbles over when he convinces himself it’s something humungous (we won’t spoil the surprise), and then… It’s time for the grown-up reader to cringe as the boy in the story tells the whole school what he’s decided the surprise is. You cringe as you forsee the big crash coming, but it’s to the author’s credit that the fall is softened with some palpable family warmth. That Mackintosh is a graphic designer is abundantly clear in the book’s dynamite visuals. He plays with scale and perspective and uses jazzy collages of vintage photographs to portray the central character’s overactive imagination. The whole is really quite hilarious, and a deliciously zany read for both kids and the adults telling the tale. It’s a lucky child that gets this in their stocking. Taster ‘Hey! Maybe it’s tickets to The Amazing Yo-Yo Super Super Show at the town hall.’Buy 'Lucky'
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Photo © Rob GreigA Possum’s Tail Gabby Dawnay & Alex Barrow. Tate Publishing, £11.99.Age 3+ Anyone who’s walked through the city with a toddler will identify with the rhythm of this satisfying cyclical, London-set tale. Charming without being cutesy, the gentle rhymes are a pure pleasure, while the understated illustrations are rich with fun details to spot, from hapless Japanese tourists to a newsstand selling copies of Vague magazine. Taster ‘Back past the pub across the street, the dog on wheels, the boy on feet.'Buy 'A Possum's Tail'
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Photo © Rob GreigOnce Upon an Alphabet Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, £20.Age 5-8 Oliver Jeffers is having a stupendous year. There’s the exhibition at Discover Children’s Story Centre that brings his distinctive picture books to life, and not one but two separate adaptations of his book, ‘The Way Back Home’ have been brought to London’s theatres. In this latest work, words and pictures work together to tell short stories, often in jaunty verse, about each letter of the alphabet. From an acrophobic astronaut to the zeppelin that just might help conquer his fear, these sparky vignettes play out with an idiosyncratic charm and heaps of humour. Squiggly line drawings with judicious splashes of watercolour, and richly coloured pages for each letter, work with the words to create a satisfying whole. It’s sprinkled with dashes of darkness (death makes several appearances) and stacks of surrealism, from talking parsnips to jam doors. And characters recur in later stories, giving it a nice sense of cohesion. With added coffee table appeal, this handsome tome looks set to be another classic from a beloved author. Taster ‘Out on the ocean there is an owl who rides on the back of an octopus. They search for problems. They solve them. They move on.’Buy 'Once Upon an Alphabet'
The Spectacular Tale of Peter Rabbit Emma Thompson & Eleanor Taylor. Frederick Warne, £12.99.Age 3+ Actress Emma Thompson brings her screenwriting skills to her third new story continuing the adventures of Beatrix Potter’s cheeky rabbit. Told with an attractively old-timey tone and a dash of mischief, as well as being beautifully illustrated by Eleanor Taylor, this is a lovely addition to any Potter fan’s bookshelf. Taster ‘On the breeze came the rooty-toot-toot of the pipes.’Buy 'The Spectacular Tale of Peter Rabbit'
The Crocodile Under the Bed Judith Kerr. HarperCollins, £12.99.Age 4-8 Pretty staggeringly, Judith Kerr is still writing at 91 years young. After ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ knocked on our doors in 1968, Kerr wrote a picture book with the title ‘The Crocodile Under the Bed.’ ‘It had some nice drawings in but the story was unbelievably boring and so Collins very sensibly didn’t publish it,’ she recounts. ‘But I’ve always liked the idea of a crocodile under the bed because so many children seem to think there is one, and I thought of a funny story about a crocodile. It’s totally different from the one I wrote all those years ago. It’s a flying crocodile which was great fun to do.’ The central scene in the story is reminiscent of that in Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman’, only instead of walking in the air to the snowmen’s ball, Kerr’s boy protagonist flies to a jungle party on an accommodating croc. It’s the ultimate kids’ fantasy party, with snake slides and monkey rides, which children will love, and the softly smudged illustrations are wonderfully appealing, too. Second time’s a winner for this revisited title. Taster ‘Are you ready for your rip-roaring ride?’Buy 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Giant Game of Sculpture Hervé Tullet. Phaidon, £19.95.Age 3+ There’s more than one way to get lost in a book. This paper engineering marvel lets kids push out perforated paper shapes and construct a stand-up artwork that you won’t mind keeping on display.Buy 'Giant Game of Sculpture'
The Book With No Pictures BJ Novak. Puffin, £12.99.Age 3+ Turning the concept of a picture book on its head, actor BJ Novak (from the US version of ‘The Office’), puts the joke firmly on the adult tasked with reading the increasingly ridiculous stream of nonsense words, absurd concepts and silly situations on the page. The format features scant text on otherwise blank pages, making the reader work extra hard to breathe life into the storytelling session. Despite the Americanisms (British kids are more to used to laughing at the word ‘bum’ than ‘butt’), it’s sure to elicit peals of delighted laughter from the child as you impersonate a robot monkey or spout gibberish. One for energetic storytimes. Taster ‘My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt.’Buy 'The Book with no Pictures'
The Classic Adventures of Paddington Michael Bond & Penny Fortnum. HarperCollins, £35.Age 5-8 This lavishly packaged Paddington treasury should go down very well with kids who enjoyed the recent film. It’s a compilation of 11 of the original stories following the misadventures of the duffle-coated bear transplanted to London from Peru, and very smart it is too. Taster ‘Mr and Mrs Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform.’Buy 'The Classic Adventures of Paddington'  
Best Christmas Book Ever! Richard Scarry. HarperCollins, £6.99.Age 1+ A festive compilation for fans of Scarry’s detailed illustrations, this edition features carols to sing, a family game, instructions on an easy gift to make for grandmas (a sweet-smelling pomander, bound to be appreciated), and a series of seasonal stories as the residents of Busytown learn about the meaning of Christmas (helping out neighbours and spending time with family, since you ask, although presents do feature in a fun escapade at Santa’s workshop). Taster ‘Just look at the size of that pie! It is so big that Mr Frumble has to balance it on his head. My, it is going to taste good! […] Uh, oh, watch your step, Mr Frumble, there is a toy on the floor. Ohhh no…’Buy 'Best Christmas Book Ever!'

This year's best books for kids

Kids been extra good? Tuck one of the year's best children’s books into their stocking

By Natasha Polyviou

Festive fun for your young ones

Outdoor ice rinks

Things to do Ice skating

Get your skates on: London's outdoor ice rinks Popular events this week Lord Mayor's Show and Fireworks 2013 The flamboyant procession involves thousands of people from a huge variety of London organisations and hundreds of horses, along with marching bands and floats. Starting from Mansion House at 11am, it winds its way through the historic streets of the Square Mile to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. At 11.45am the State Coach leaves Guildhall and travels to Mansion House to pick up the new Lord Mayor, joining the procession near the back. Going out, the parade travels past St Paul’s Cathedral, where the Lord Mayor will pause to receive a blessing. On the way back, between 1pm and 2.30pm, the route goes via Embankment. It’s not Boris who’s the centre of attention on this occasion. The new mayor being celebrated is the annually elected ambassador of the City of London. In 2013 the incumbent is leading lawyer Fiona Woolf, only the second woman ever to hold the post (the first, Mary Donaldson, served from 1983 to 1984). What began as a reassuringly public way for the Lord Mayor to swear an oath of loyalty to King John had become a popular pageant by the sixteenth century. It featured in Pepys’s diaries and in works by Canaletto and Hogarth. Originally, the mayor travelled by river; later he rode on horseback – until 1711, when Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off and broke his leg. The magnificent State Coach subsequently commissioned from

Santa's grottos


Christmas in London Discover all the festive activities to be enjoyed in London this Christmas, including markets, Christmas lights, pantomimes and carols. What could make Christmas more magical than an encounter with Father Christmas himself? Find out where to meet the man in red this winter with Time Out's guide to Santa's Christmas grottos in London. Santa's grottos in London The London Zoo Christmas Journey What sets this grotto apart from the rest is that your little ones can actually meet Santa’s reindeer – adding that extra touch of magic and wonder. In the daily keeper’s talk, you’ll find out why the critters all have to be of the female persuasion. Of course they’ll also meet Father Christmas, and carousel rides and other animal demonstrations complete the experience. Make sure to book your tickets in advance. Harrods Christmas Grotto Christmas shopping while dragging grumbling children behind is hardly going to put you in the festive spirit. Luckily, Harrods Christmas Grotto is back this season to give your little ones magical memories – and give your shopping schedule a little breathing room as you take a break with your kiddies. New this year is the 'Pre-School Experience', specifically for tots under four: just like the 'Classic Experience' for the bigger kids, the sessions give toddlers a chance to meet Father Christmas and take home a Harrods book, badge and Christmas chocolate (Mon-Fri 10am-11:30am, throughout November). You ca


Christmas theatre for kids

Theatre Children's

Help make Christmas even more magical while they're still gullible with a festive theatre show created especially with small people in mind. Christmas in London Discover all the festive activities to be enjoyed in London this Christmas, including markets, Christmas lights, pantomimes and carols. See our guide to Christmas in London Christmas shows for kids (5-8 years) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland When she falls down the rabbit hole, Alice discovers a strange fantasy world, with Cheshire cats and mad march hares. Simon Reade's thrilling adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic features original songs. Ages 6+. Cinderella: A Fairytale Travelling Light and the Bristol Tobacco Factory's fiesty take on the story of Cinderella gave the St James Theatre an enchanting 2012 Christmas show, which was nominated for an Olivier Award. Lisa Kerr was wonderful as Ella, a young girl who takes solace in her woodland bird friends after her father remarries. She's not named in the current publiicty, so presumably a cast change is likely, though the fact she performed here earlier this year in Complicite's 'Lionboy' gives us some hope. Ages 6+. Christmas Claytime Encourage your kids to make up theatre of their own by taking them to this show from Indefinite Articles. Sally Brown and Steve Tiplady perform this Christmas treat which is created with the help of audience members who share their ideas. Ages 7 and under. Dickens Abridged This fast-paced musical comedy sprints through Charles Dicken

Christmas lights in London

Things to do

We're still hearing which 'celebrities' and pop 'artists' will be flicking the switch to light up London's high streets this Christmas and when they'll do it, and will continue to add to this page as we receive news. In the meantime, satisfy your festive decoration cravings with our gallery of lights from Christmases past. Christmas in London Discover all the festive activities to be enjoyed in London this Christmas, including markets, Christmas lights, pantomimes and carols. See our guide to Christmas in London More festive features Ice skating in London With the advent of winter, atmospheric ice rinks pop up all over London. Get your skates on!Read more Christmas shows and pantos Pantomimes, family shows and something a little more alternative for theatrical delights this DecemberRead more London's Christmas lights See London at its dazzling best as it reveals its decorations for the festive periodRead more Christmas markets and fairs Wrap up your festive shopping with London's Christmas markets and fairsRead more Santa's grottos What could make Christmas more magical than an encounter with Father Christmas himself?Read more Christmas carol concerts Get into the seasonal spirit with a rousing chorus or two at one of these festive carol concertsRead more Christmas party venues London venues that are ready and waiting to help you have a good time this winterRead more Where to buy a Christmas tree Will you be going for real fir? Here's our guide to getting the perfect tree


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