Christmas Crackers

Why does a cold always strike when you least want it to?  Thankfully I seem to be getting over the worst of it, but it has meant missing a performance of “Messiah” that we had booked to attend.  We will just have to listen on CD, but it is not quite the same.’  This means that I will have to depends on my books to bring the Christmas spirit into our lives and whilst I have re-read some old favourites, I have also had the chance to read a couple of fantastic new additions.

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Canongate, 9781782117896

The first of these books is one that has taken the children’s book world by storm this year and it is “A boy called Christmas” by Matt Haig.  It is the story of a young boy’s journey to find his father and how he saves relations between elves and humans.  It is also the story of how he gradually becomes the person known as Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus.  A wonderful mix of fairy tale and fantasy that whilst showing the depths of human behaviour also shows how goodness overcomes evil and that it is possible to live happy peaceful lives.  The illustrations are by the truly original and inventive Chris Mould.  I particularly like his front covers for “The Daily Snow”, all of which had me chuckling to myself.

“Snow Sister” by Emma Carroll is a fairly short little story, aimed at the 7-9 year olds.  It is the story of Pearl and her desire to keep the memory of her dead sister Agnes by creating a ‘snow sister’ whenever it snows.   This is a Victorian tale about family and what is really important in life.  Yet again Emma Carroll has produced a story that provided deep satisfaction and a sense of the Christmas season. (NG)

“Reindeer Girl” by Holly Webb is not a direct Christmas story but it deals with the magical events that unfold during Lotta’s visit to her Sami family, especially her grandmother, in Norway.  It is a beautiful story about family and also about caring for the animals we are responsible for.  Holly Webb writes some fantastic books and this has just joined the list of those that the younger reader (7+) will love. (NG)

“The Legend of Holly Claus” by Brittney Ryan, illustrated by Laurel Long is the story of Santa Claus’ daughter and her fight to break a curse that has been placed upon her and the Never land where she and her parents live.  It is an original and very entertaining story that makes a great addition to the pantheon of Christmas stories. (NG)

I first read “Nikolai of the North” by Lucy Daniel Raby when it first came out several years ago and then read the second book in the series.  It is the story of how Nikolai became Father Christmas after defeating the evil Queen Magda, who has killed all of the elves except Nikolai himself. It is a real adventure story

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Nosy Crow, 9780857637413

“Refuge” by Anne Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher is a beautiful and simple retelling of the Christmas story and it reminds us that Jesus was a refugee and had to flee to Egypt as a baby.  It is told in short and clear sentences by the donkey who carried Mary and the baby and the final line is one we should all remember, “…and we found refuge.”

For the younger readers there are some old favourites and some humorous new friends to be made.  Firstly there is “Librarian’s Night before Christmas” by David Davis, illustrated by Jim Harris.  It is based on the original story by Clement C. Moore and tells the story of a librarian working on Christmas Eve and what happens when Santa and his Elves turn up to help.  There are some serious messages underlying the humour and it is a book that will make most librarians chuckle.

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HarperCollins, 9780008164362

Judith Kerr has caused quite a stir with her new “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” which was created as part of the Sainbury’s Christmas advert.  In this adventure our favourite cat manages to create the problem and then save the day for all concerned.  It is a lovely ‘feel good’ story and will join the original “Mog’s Christmas” in becoming a seasonal favourite.

A story that evokes the feelings of Christmas without being about the festival is “Snow” by Sam Usher.  this is the tale of a young boy and his excitement on discovering snow has fallen.  We can positively feel his anguish as he has to wait while his grandfather gets ready to take him to the park.  Eventually they gt out and join all their friends for snowball fights and sledging, so a fantastic time is had by all concerned.

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V&A Publishing, 9781851778584

My final winter choice is a short illustrated story by Lani Yamamoto and it is called “Stina”.  This is an Icelandic story about a young girl who cannot cope with the cold and gradually cuts herself off from the outside world, but even this does not make her feel warm, in fact quite the opposite.  Then one day two children take shelter from a storm and Stina wonders why they are so warm being outside, whilst she is cold in the house.  A lovely story with a strong moral running through it

(NG)  Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for access to these titles as online proofs.

A bunch of books for the Spring

The end of January brings the bi-annual listing of new children’s books  from Bookseller magazine.  It is always great to sit and check which of my favourite authors have got a new titles in the next few months.  This latest offering has got me all excited about those books appearing over the next months, but also those that have been appearing in the post for me to look at.  I still think we are  lucky to live at a  time where so much writing and illustration talent is on offer.

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HarperCollins, 978-0007545766

The other week I was lucky enough to be invited to meet new Irish author Shane Hegarty, whose book “Darkmouth” has just been published.  It is a dark and atmospheric book about a small seaside village in Ireland where there exists one of the last doorways between the world of ‘Legends’ and our world.  The hero is a young boy called Finn, who is being trained as a Legend Hunter by his father, but he is not very successful.  It is an action packed story for both boys and girls and there will be more to come in the series.

 

 

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Corgi, 978-0552568531

For those who like their mysteries to be more linked to the modern world then the new book by Amanda Mitchison, called “Crog” might fit the bill. the ‘hero’ Wilf is something of a kleptomaniac, although he steals because he is bored.  A less than inspiring person who has an extremely wealthy father and a very normal sister, he finds himself in real trouble when he steals a bowl from a local museum and the next morning finds a 3000 year old man in his room, who says he has to guard the bowl.  There are great adventures and many
twists in the plot before the truth is discovered. A real page turner for the middle years.

 

 

 

 

 

“Big game” by Dan Smith is a really strong story, which has just been made into a film, starring Samuel L Jackson.  Imagine being out in the snow in Finland, undergoing a trial to prove your manhood, and then finding a crashed escape pod containing the president of the United States. The problem comes when you find there are men out there who want to kill the president – and you.  A great adventure thriller.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002797

 

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Walker books, 978-1406354928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite books of the last couple of months is “Julius Zebra: rumble with the Romans”  by Gary Northfield.  This is a hysterical story of the less than brave Julius who is captured by the Romans and ends up fighting in the Colosseum in Rome.  It requires a huge amount of disbelief around the idea of anthropomorphic animals.  There is wonderful humour, mixed with a fair amount of information about gladiators, which will be great for young readers, both boys and girls.

 

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Chicken House

For a young teen audience there is a really heart wrenching book being published by the great Chicken House.  It is called “The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart and is the story of Mark, a twelve year old who is terminally ill with cancer and decides he is going on one last big adventure while he can.  It is a fantastic story of grit and determination, fighting against the odds and also about the families and friends who care.  I strongly recommend this one.

 

 

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HarperCollins, 978-0007589180

“Scarlet and Ivy” by Sophie Cleverly is a first novel, by one of the graduates from the truly amazing Writing for young people course at Bath Spa.  they have produced some of the best authors of the last few years.  This story is about mysteries and missing people; with all kinds of twists and turns as Ivy tries to find out what has happened to her missing sister.

 

 

 

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OUP, 978-0192737748

For younger readers we have the funny and truly imaginative story of “The Accidental Prime Minister” by Tom McLaughlin.  The premise is totally impossible but it makes for a good read and I think some of the contenders for the real office might learn a thing or to about working for the people, if they read this book to their children.

 

 

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Bloomsbury, 978-1408854136

“The Last of the Spirits” by Chris Priestley is a wonderful re-telling of the story of  “A Christmas carol” but told from the perspective of a destitute boy and his sister.  It is one of those books that just grabs you, and I finished it in one sitting.  It is also going on my list of those books which have to be read every year; probably just after I have watched the ‘Muppet Christmas carol’.

 

 

 

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Hot Key Books, 978-1471404597

“The door that led to Where” by Sally Gardner is yet another real winner  from a truly superb writer.  It is a time travel novel, set in modern and Victorian London, but with the twists and turns that keep you hooked into the story.  The ending seems to give hope that there will be a follow up, I do hope so.

 

 

 

Arsenic for Tea. jpeg

Randomhouse, 978-0552570732

“Arsenic for Tea” by Robin Stevens is the second in the series featuring the girl sleuths  Daisy Wells and  Hazel Wong and set in a Poirotesque time frame.  I have to say that this one kept me guessing and I was really disappointed
when the murderer was announced, because all of the suspects were such nice people, in fact the only nasty person turned out to be the victim.  I have just heard that a contract has been signed for more books by this author and I can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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Curious Fox, 978-1782022527

My last offering is the first in a new series by Vicki Lockwood, called ” The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom”.  It is set in Victorian London and surrounds the adventures of Lizzie Brown, who runs away from her drunken father and finds herself joining a circus.  Whilst assisting the fortuneteller, Lizzie discovers that she has a true ability to see into the future, not something she really wants.  the story deals with her attempts to unmask a mysterious thief, with the help of her new circus friends.  I am looking forward to the next in this exciting series for the ‘tweens’.

 

Christmas is almost upon us.

Every year we seem to find Christmas preparations getting earlier, with the shops starting the marketing as early as the end of August.  However I try and keep things in perspective until the beginning of December, although you do have to think of cakes and puddings a bit earlier.  The build up to the festivities has always started with the arrival of the latest Christmas/winter themed picturebooks and ends with a surfeit of “Muppet Christmas Carol”.  This year I am going to highlight a couple of new books and several ‘old’ favourites and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have done.

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

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Walker books, 9781406320633

This wonderful evocation of Christmas in the 1930s is really something special from the amazing Shirley Hughes.  It is set in working class Liverpool and gives us an insight into how people  were influenced by their religious upbringing.  When their widowed mother has to leave them for a short while, Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by the odd thumping sound coming from their outhouse.  Lucky their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley took them in to her home and found the reason for the sounds.  The story is full of pathos and has a real lesson for us all about the meaning of goodwill to all men.

 

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes

This book came out last year and stars one of the favourite characters in children’s picturebooks.  Perhaps Alfie and Annie Rose live a somewhat idealized life compared to many, put they still have to go through all the worries and hopes about the coming festivities. This story perfectly shows the excitement that the  children experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  From Christmas carols and plays, to making decorations and mince pies, we join Alfie and Annie Rose in their preparations and their enjoyment of the big day.

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Red Fox, 9781849416498

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Little Angel by  Ruth Brown

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Andersen Press, 9780862648467

Although this book was first published in 1998 it is still one of my favourites.  The gentle humour  surrounding the young angel  is a reminder that not everyone wants a halo and wings.  The twist at the end is something of a lightbulb moment that makes sense of the whole story and Ruth Brown did a magnificent job in leading us away from the real plot.  It should be read in every primary school at this time of year.

 

 

 

Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman

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Andersen Press, 9780862649277

An enchanting retelling of the nativity story, but from the perspective of a cat who takes shelter in the stable on that cold winter’s night  in Bethlehem.  It is a very grumpy cat, so we get his opinions about cattle, donkeys, sheep and all the other animals and people who arrive to see the new baby that has been born. However, the lives of all there were changed by that event and even the cat is mellowed by his experience.

 

The Snow day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb (illust)

Whilst this new book is not specifically about Christmas it is about the simple joys of snow and the  magic of imagination which can flourish when we change to our normal routines and attitudes.  This really had me chuckling at the events and the two characters.  It is a gentle book , full of hope and a belief in the simpler ways of enjoying life. I am preparing a longer review of this book for the School Librarian, but it had to make an appearance in my own listing for this year and will definitely be on my annual “to read” list.

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Puffin, 9780723288923

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Snow by Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei (illust)

I first spoke about this book in my previous review of picture books.  It is a lovely re-drawing of the poem by de la Mare, with a slightly 1950s feel to the illustrations with their simplicity and limited colour palette.  there is that really simple joy which comes from making the most of what surrounds us and which we often forget in the hustle bustle of the modern world.

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The final two books have elements that bring them together.  They  have gatherings of people, although in some stories it is a greater number than in others.  There is a strong sense of family and friendship and also of making the best of things when there are a few problems.

The first of the books is a very old favourite that I have told on endless occasions in libraries and schools

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

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Harpercollins, 9780007146932

A wonderful story of friendship featuring the loveable Percy the Park keeper and the wide assortment of animals that live in his park.  When the snow falls heavily the animals arrive at Percy’s hut for a bit of shelter, and how things work out makes for a magical tale which never fails.

 

 

Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry and John lawrence (illust)

Amazingly this book was first written in 1989 and I can only suppose I missed it because we moved to Cyprus at the end of that year. It is a very funny tale of what happens when a house if filled lierally to the rafters with people seeking shelter for the Christmas break.  We end up with 18 children that father Christmas has to remember, never mind all the adults.  It is rather like a festive game of ‘sardines’.  Thankfully the book was republished last year by Walker books, so it is available to a whole new audience.

 

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Walker books, 978406343038

I do hope that you get the chance to read some of these books and in particular have the chance to read them to a young audience because they really do add to that magical feel that we have for Christmas.