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.

Bath time again!

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An expectant audience

Can it really be a whole year since the last Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, well yes it can.  This year sees the return of John and Gill McLay as the artistic directors.  They founded the festival and nurtured it during the first 6 years of its life, now they are back for year 9.

The events started off with a wonderful talk by the iconic Judith Kerr (pronounced Carr, so we2015-10-01 15.50.43 were informed?) in conversation with Julia Eccleshare.  She spoke about her childhood but also about her many books and in particular her new work “Mr Cleghorn’s Seal” which is based on an event in her father’s earlier life.  After this many of us transferred over to Waterstones for the launch party which was full of lovely authors, illustrators, supporters volunteers and friends of the festival.

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Mamillan, 9781447277897

the next day saw me reporting for duty in my first volunteer session of the year.  I was lucky enough to work on a session by Kristina Stephenson for her “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Pirate’s Curse” which was full of music activity and a wealth of energy.  The children absolutely loved it.  I then had the great pleasure of seeing the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell talk about his latest book “Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright” as well as watching his amazing talent as an illustrator.  The queue for book signing was enormous and I was unable to get my book signed as I was booked to go and listen to the amazing Patrick Ness talking about “The rest of us just live here”.  A book that I have written about before.

2015-09-28 15.17.33I must admit to then having a day off in order to catch up on the more mundane things of life, as well as doing a bit of reading.  However on Monday I was off again, this time it was attending a school visit with the lovely Bali Rai.  I have heard him do a short talk at a conference in the past, but this was the first time that I had the pleasure of hearing him work with a young audience.  He absolutely held all of them spellbound, something that is quite difficult with over 100 year 9s and year 11s.  He spoke about writing in general, his background, the influences he finds and also about racism and extremism across a wide spectrum.  I would recommend any school to have him talk to their older pupils.

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Corgi, 9780552570749

2015-10-03 11.13.21The second weekend of the festival I was working on both days, but only half a day on each.  Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Guildhall and was able to see Elen Caldecott and Robin Stevens talking about writing crime for younger audiences.  Elen is a local author and and her latest book is the second in a series ‘Marsh road Mysteries’ and is called “Crowns and Codebreakers”.  Robin has really hit the spot with her wonderful series about the two schoolgirl sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong and she was talking about the third in the series “A first class Murder” which is a homage to “Murder on the Orient Express”  I also spent some of the morning learning how to draw “Wookies and Droids”, which might come in useful when my grandson is older.  With the next Star Wars film coming to the big screen in 2015-10-03 09.33.19 2015-10-06 21.25.41November this was very well times. I also saw the amazing duo of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in the green room as they were about to go to their “Pugs of the Frozen north” event.  I then met them later when they were off to their individual events for “Railhead” and “Dinosaur Police”.

 

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Andersen, 9781783443642

Sunday was the last day of the festival and there were so many events that I would have loved to attend, however I did steward the events for Julian Clary and David Roberts, talking about their book “The Bolds”, which is a great read for those younger confident readers.  they shared the speaking and then David also produced illustrations so that the audience could see how a character is developed.  I then worked on the session with the poet John Hegley – he is 2015-10-04 16.33.05-1really brilliant and it is a major ‘experience’ to hear him speak, play his ukulele  and generally entertain his audience.

The final bit of icing on the cake was meeting Jennifer Donnelly in the Green Room and getting her to sign copies of 2015-10-04 16.59.01her books “Rogue Wave” and “Dark Tide”, the second and third titles in her series about a world with Mer nations and wars for power.

Of course all of this was just the tip of the iceberg and there were so many other fantastic events going on at other venues.  The programme is so varied that there is something for everyone.  For small children there were some favourite authors and illustrators, such as Michael Rosen,  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and for teens there was Joe Suggs and Jacqueline Wilson.  If you haven’t been to Bath before, then I suggest you book the dates for next year.