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Seven fun Christmas gift ideas for children in Belgium

10:39 11/12/2016
A giant Brussels colouring poster, vintage wooden trucks - and WIN a personalised kids' storybook

Zebrabook: Embark on a European adventure

The European Tour is a personalised storybook where children embark on an adventure-filled journey around the continent - planting tulips in the Netherlands, putting Swiss cuckoo clocks back together, consoling a Romanian vampire and enjoying a cup of tea with the British Queen.

Developed by Brussels-based publisher Zebrabook, and available in French, Dutch and English, the book sets out to help children aged four to 10 discover more about Europe, meeting a different character and undertaking a challenge in each country, such as learning to pronounce the fiendlishly difficult Luxemburgish word for potato pancakes: gromperekichelcher.

"It's about history and the qualities of people in each country. It's about going through a big journey with your kids, meeting people," says Zebrabook founder Marie Thibaut de Maisières, whose work has been informed by research into sexism and stereotypes in children's books.

"In French kids' literature we have a very big gender problem - 80% of the characters are male, and girls can't identify with the characters. It's really important for girls to see powerful, intelligent and brave girl characters. In this book we did 50:50 male:female. As it's a personalised book they will totally identify with their hero."

She says the book also has some hidden jokes and surprises for the grown-ups too - and the text has been beautifully translated from the original French. "English is the best language for children's books," she says. "My book in English is always much better than the French book. The translator takes my text and makes something totally better. He totally rewrites it."

Previous instalments in the series have been translated into eight languages and are a hit in Scandinavia. De Maisières hopes the European Tour will be popular with the English-speaking market. "Europe is so fashionable in England at the moment," she jokes.

Happy Museum: 'Art and history while having fun'

Art historian Catherine de Duve has published a series of colourful eye-catching books aimed at children aged four to 12 and their families.

The art books are each devoted to one artist but are often connected to specific exhibitions, for instance, there is a book on Picasso which is available in tandem with the current Picasso show at Bozar.

There are also history books such as a book on the Battle of Waterloo, a history of Belgium, a life of Marie-Antoinette and - just out - a history of the Kings and Queens of Belgium.

"All the museum books are available in English," says de Duve. "I'm trying to teach children and their parents and grandparents to know more about art and history while having fun. The latest book is not yet available in English but reading it could be a fun way to learn French."

In all there are more than 60 books published (25 in specific partnerships with museums), available in 10 languages, all containing the same engaging mixture of history, facts and games.

As well as the history books and the books devoted to painters from Breughel to Whistler there is also a book on contemporary art and one on outsider art, and even a book on science. The books are available in museum shops, bookstores and online.

Here are some more children's gift ideas from the 2016 Flanders Today winter gift guide.

Goki wooden trucks

These wooden trucks wouldn’t look out of place in your granddad’s toy box. Their simple design and bright colours will engage your children’s imagination for hours on end. And like the hand-me-down toys of yesteryear, they’re made to last a lifetime. (€27-€70). Opened two years ago, Volte Face (Rue des Teinturiers 17, Brussels) is a nostalgic treasure trove for young and old. Wooden toys take centre stage, but in addition to the ubiquitous cars and trucks, you’ll also find timeless items like board games, doll's houses, pogo sticks and balance bikes.

JM Barrie’s Peter Pan 

This deluxe, illustrated edition has a whimsically old-fashioned look and feel, courtesy of the graphic design duo behind the Harry Potter films. What’s more, there are cleverly designed interactive elements inside the pages. Also available: Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. (€30). Buy it at Grim - an expertly curated independent bookstore in Hasselt (Maastrichterstraat 83) that just opened its doors last summer. It stocks Dutch- and English-language books for adults and children, as well as gifts and stationery.

Brussels XL colouring poster

With this giant colouring poster from Happy Mappy, developed by two fans of Brussels, your kids will finally be able to paint the walls without damaging the interior. The oversized map of Brussels lets the little ones colour in the blanks while discovering the city’s major landmarks. (€25). Over its five years, LuLu Home Interior (Rue du Page 101, Ixelles) has become a local favourite with its winning combination of Scandinavian design, a lovely cafe (that makes the most yummy Oreo lattes) and 830 square meters dedicated to all things interior. 

Haba doll

Haba has been making eco-friendly toys for little explorers for more than 75 years. Its cloth dolls are a classic and come in a wide variety of quirky characters that will definitely charm their way into your little one’s heart. (€42.50) You'll find it at In den olifant in Antwerp (Leopoldstraat 23). This shop specialises in classic and quality toys and books, offering a wide range of wooden toys, beautiful stuffed animals, exotic tales and picture-perfect dolls that tantalise the imagination.

Oyoy wooden blocks

For kids with style: a set of beautiful wooden blocks that can be played with or admired. Stack them to build a tower or string the bricks together, and it will become a mobile. The blocks come in a natural wooden box. (€40). Buy it at Ydee in Ghent (Oudburg 56). Ask for help as soon as you see a shop-assistant, or you will get lost in the more than 300 square metres filled with fun gadgets. Ydee specialises in innovative and sustainable, but affordable, designs.

Looking for gift ideas for grown-ups? Check the Flanders Today Christmas gift guide here.

Written by Richard Harris, Paul McNally and the Flanders Today editorial team