It must be Christmas!

Well, for the last couple of months we have been showered by lists of books that we should be reading this Christmas and I thought that as in previous years I will pick a few of the ones that I have really enjoyed.  Yet again it has been quite a bumper year for Christmas stories and this year they cover a large range of genres as well as age ranges.  So let us start with those for what is now termed the ‘independent’ reader.

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Puffin, 978-0141369723

“Mistletoe and Murder” by Robin Stevens is the latest in her series about the two young sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  I have been an avid reader of all her works and this definitely lives up to the superb standard of the others.  Daisy and Hazel find themselves spending Christmas in a Cambridge college and then they become embroiled in a murder enquiry which really tests their skills.  Robin Stevens has used her love of ‘Golden Age’ crime to link this story to the works of Dorothy L Sayers and in particular to ‘Gaudy Night’ which is set in an Oxford College.  As the girls might say, this is a “really spiffing read”.

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Macmillan, 978-1509832583

“The Road to Ever After” by Moira Young is a total change from her earlier work and is for a slightly younger audience.  It is the story of young  Davy David who scrapes out a living in the  small  town of Brownvale and re-creates pictures of angels on the ground.  Life changes when the mysterious Miss Flint hires him to driver her to an unknown house on the coast, despite the fact that he is only 13 years and cannot drive.  What follows is a magical journey, with unexpected consequences. There is a sense of being on a quest as well as there being a nod in the direction of “A Wonderful Life”.  This is a story to re-read and treasure and I know it will be with me for a long time.

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Canongate, 978-1782118572

“The Girl who saved Christmas” by Matt Haig is the follow on to last year’s best seller “A Boy called Christmas”.  Whilst the central character  is still Father Christmas, this book is set at a later period.  People are beginning to not believe in Father Christmas and the magic is starting to disappear.  It needs someone who really believes, to save the day; but even she is beginning to have doubts.

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Nosy Crow, 978-0857636386

“Murder in Midwinter” by Fleur Hitchcock.  When Maya thinks she might have seen a murderer, the police send her to stay with her aunt in Wales.  But the danger follows her in this exciting story.

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Puffin, 9780141373324

“The Christmasaurus” by Tom Fletcher is about a dinosaur searching for his identity and a young boy who loves dinosaurs and Christmas; add a nasty villain to the mix and get set for a fantastically magical adventure

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471159800

“Winter Magic” edited by Abi Elphinstone is a collection of seasonal stories curated by Abi.  the authors are a range of the top children’s writers that are in the UK today.  They include Piers Torday, Michelle Magorian, Jamila Gavin and Lauren St John.  There is bound to be something for everyone in this collection

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Hodder, 9781444926491

“Santa Claude” by Alex T. Smith.  When Claude accidentally locks Santa in handcuffs and can’t find the key (don’t ask)  he faces the problem of trying to deliver all of the presents himself.  This is a great story for those who are just beginning to read by themselves or who want to share with others.

 

With picture books we are always inundated by a host of new titles every year, however there are also some favourites that make a welcome re-appearance.  I have included some that have come back this year and which I have not written about on previous years.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781442496736

“Click Clack Ho! Ho! Ho!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.  This is the Christmas offering about the animals on farmer Brown’s farm and how they ‘cope’ with Christmas Eve and the arrival of Santa. As usual it is extremely funny and will be a great read.

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Scholastic, 9781407109053

“The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.  This is a truly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story which really touches the heart.  A absolute classic of the future.

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Floris books, 9781782502944

“Mary’s Little Donkey” by Gunhild Sehlin and Helene Muller.  This is a story of the Nativity for younger Children.  It is translated from the Swedish and then it has been abridged.  The illustrations are sympathetic to the tale and evoke the feel of the occasion.  A lovely version to read to young children.

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Puffin, 9781780080116

“Otto the Book Bear in the Snow” by Katie Cleminson is the magical story of two book bears whose book is borrowed from the library and then left whilst the readers go on holiday.  But the bears need to get back to the library for the Christmas party, unfortunately things do not go as planned, so will they get back in time?

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Puffin, 9780141373706

“Dream Snow” by Eric Carle.  A delicious little lift the flap book about preparing for Christmas on a farm.  It is great for recognizing the animals and getting into the festive spirit.

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OUP, 9780192747372

“Winnie and Wilbur meet Santa” by  Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. When Santa gets stuck in Winnie’s chimney he asks her and Wilbur to help him deliver the rest of the presents.  They have a great adventure but also lots of problems, so in the end Winnie uses a bit of magic to make sure that all the presents are delivered.  As always the illustrations are sumptuous and this time there is a pop-up at the back, which is sure to be a great hit with everyone.  I particularly like the use of Greek for names etc in the pictures, I wonder how many children will recognize the language?

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Bloomsbury, 9781408859155

“Robin’s Winter Song” by Suzanne Barton is a beautiful story of the Robin discovering Winter for the first time and seeing what a great time he can have with his friends.  The illustrations are positively jewel-like and add to the sense of joy and excitement about the time of year.

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Walker books, 9781406365955

“The Christmas Eve Tree” by Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton is the story of a small and unloved Christmas tree that was saved from destruction by a young  homeless boy and of the joy at Christmas as people gather around the tree to sing carols and to forget the problems of their everyday life.  The ending shows that there is always hope and we need to believe in the goodness of people around us.  There are beautiful illustrations with a feel of the 1960s to them, which really adds to the atmosphere of the story.

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Simon & Schuster, 9781471119989

“The Storm Whale in Winter” by Benji Davies is the second story about a young boy called Noi and the young Whale that he had rescued in the summer.  This is a winter’s tale and a wonderful coming together of man and nature to save one another.  It is a simple but very heart warming story.

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Red Fox, 9781782955504

“Lucy and Tom at Christmas” by Shirley Hughes have, together with “Alfie’s Christmas”, become symbols of what we might call a traditional Christmas.  It was first published in 1981 and the world has changed a great deal since then.  However the story gives a lovely sense of family, friendship and the meaning of the occasion.  Sometimes it is nice to wallow in nostalgia and think of the simple enjoyments of life.

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David Fickling, 9781910200803

“Coming Home” by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman (illust.)  is the story of a Robin as he migrates to his winter home, all the time thinking about his partner who should be waiting for him.  It is full of trials and tribulations but also kindness and hope.  Definitely a story full of the meaning of  Christmas.

 

I can’t believe it is only a week until the big day but I am sure that there is still time to do a bit of reading or to get some stocking fillers for the family.  I know I will be reading some of these stories to my grandson when he comes to visit and i might even treat myself to a re-read of one or two favourite stories.  The Christmas season has definitely started as I was telling Christmas stories in my local primary school last week and I have also been to a performance of Messiah.  There is just “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to go and then all will be ready.  Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and enjoy your reading.

 

Easter ‘eggs’ to enjoy reading

 

Spring is definitely bursting out around us.  We have got the first of the daffodils and cherry blossom and from my window I can sit and watch the magnolia coming in to bloom.  It is also the time that programmes start appearing for all the conferences and festivals taking place in the next few months.  For publishers and real aficionados then Bologna is the place to be in the spring, closely followed by the London Book fair in April .  Oxford is about to have its Literature festival and I am looking forward to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference just after Easter.

I can’t quite believe that Easter is almost upon us, but at least it hopefully brings a little time to sit and read a good book, or several if you are really lucky.

it seems amazing that it is about 4 months since I had the privilege of reading  “The Astounding Broccoli Boy” by Frank Cottrell Boyce as a proof on Netgalley.  A really great story with all the humour and adventure that we have come to expect from the author. The hero, Rory, always tries to be prepared for everything, but how do you prepare for turning green? He and two other children are put in isolation whilst the adults try and sort things out, but the children have other ideas make nightly escapes to see what is going on.  A really great adventure.

 

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“The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross Mackenzie is the latest offering from the Kelpies imprint so I was really keen to give it a try; it is fair to say that the publisher has never disappointed me with the stories they produce.  This is the story of Daniel Holmes who is taken as an apprentice by the mysterious Mr Silver, the owner of the Emporium.  There is magic in this book and it takes you on a roller coaster of a journey as the heroes try to evade the creepy and evil Vindictus Sharpe. A wonderful story which leads us through an amazing world of imagination.

 

“The Girl at Midnight” is a book for older readers, written by Melissa Grey  and featuring a young girl called Echo who lives an underground life as a 2015-03-15 14.04.05 pickpocket and thief.  This is a parallel   world of the Avicen, who have a slight covering of feathers, and the Drakharin, descended from Dragons and with remnants of scales found on their hands and heads.  There is a long history of warfare between the two peoples and it looks ready to flare again as they both search for the mythical Firebird.  There is lots of action and unlikely alliances  and whilst  this took a while to get in to, I ended up loving it and I can’t wait for the next episode of the story to appear.

“The Sound of Whales” by Kerr Thomson

This is a superb first novel by Kerr Thomson full of action but also full of heart and emotion.  There are several intertwined stories which all link to a teenager 2015-04-01 11.04.25called Fraser and his slightly younger brother Dunny, who has never spoken and has a total fascination for whales. We are faced with people smugglers, a wonderful evocation of life on St Ninian’s, off Shetland and a reminder of the importance of friends and family.  It is the kind of book that just creeps up on you and then really takes root.  I have a feeling that I will be recommending this to a few people in the future.

 

Nicola Burstein’s “Other Girl”

this is a great read and is all about the strength of friendship, even when your 2015-04-01 11.04.49BFF (best friend forever) happens to develop superpowers.  There are times of great humour in this book, but the author has also included a darker side as the villain tries to force Erica (aka Flamegirl) into destroying buildings and people.  Luckily the goodies live to fight another day and also get a first date. Whilst the heroines are in their teens I think this would be great for anyone from about  9 years.

“Completely Cassidy” by Tamsyn Murray

I have read some of the author’s books for teens but this is the first in a new series for the pre-teens and it is centred around the worries and fears of Cassidy as she faces her first term at secondary school.  She also has to cope  with the fact that her mother is due to have twins at Christmas and her elder brother is a complete pain.  It is a lovely story which centres around the bonds of friendship and how things are not always as bad as we imagine they are going to be. It should almost be required reading for those just about to start ‘big school’.

Usborne,

Usborne,

February and March seem to have been particularly busy months when it comes to reading.  Not all of the books have been long, difficult or challenging but I have had a great time looking at a wide range of books, which really shows the great strength of children’s publishing at the moment.  Some books will become classics, whilst other will eventually gather dust, but it is just to wonderful to have the range of books which we can recommend to young readers and potential readers.

Young and Fun books

I thought it was time for another round up of some beautiful and fun picture books that I have received over the last few months. The first of these is

Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail

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Bloomsbury, 9781408836972

A really great story for all children, but especially for those who have something that makes them different from those around them.  This is the story of Rex, who needs glasses but hates to wear them as it makes him different.  He tries all sorts of ways to hide his specs, but then they help him find something that his teacher is lost and he is made to feel good.  The illustrations are vivid and full of energy; they use watercolours and have that naivety which we associate with the work of young people, but of course there is an underlying skill and complexity which really brings the illustrations alive.  This is one of those special books that hopefully will become a classic for the future.

The Dawn Chorus by  Suzanne Baron

2014-08-27 14.49.54

Bloomsbury
9781408839218

I really loved this charming story about a young bird called Peep.  One day he wakes to hear other birds singing and he is invited to join them in the Dawn Chorus, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot wake up in time.  It is only when he meets another bird like himself that all is explained – he is a Nightingale and they are meant to sing in the evening.  Beautiful illustrations make this great for telling to young children and the message about having individual gifts and skills is subtly woven into the story.

 

Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

2014-08-27 14.49.16

Macmillan
9780230742505

This is the latest from the award winning illustrator Catherine Rayner.  It is the story of Louie and his endeavours to rid himself of the smell of roses and apple blossom, after his owner has given him a bath.  As always this is produced in the author’s distinctive style, which fits so well with the plot of the book.  It reminds me of earlier favourites on a similar theme, including the What-a-Mess  stories of Frank Muir and the tales of  Harry the dirty dog by Gene Zion.  I particularly love the touches of gold on the cover of the book, very luxurious.

 

 

 

The Flying Bath by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts

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Macmillan
9780230742604

It is always great to have a new book from the prolific and very popular Julia Donaldson, but when the illustrations are by the lovely David Roberts then you know you are in for a treat.  This is the tale of how the bath toys spend their day, travelling around the world in a magical flying bath tub and saving a variety of creatures.  The book is full of colour and action, and I love the multicoloured wings of the bath tub; is this a slight ‘homage’ to Elmer perhaps?

 

 

 

Snow by Walter de la Mare, illustrated by Carolina Rabei

This really is a beautiful evocation of a winter that we all hold in our imaginations, even though the reality is so different for many of us.  The poem is by one of the best known children’s poets of the early 20th century, and his stories for children won the Carnegie medal in 1947.  The illustrator has taken a very short work and really added to it with her simple colour palette and a quite retro 1950s feel to the background.  I can never have enough books about winter and Christmas and this is one to keep and read again every year as part of the build up to Christmas, just like the Muppet Christmas carol on DVD.

Faber and faber, 9780571312191

Faber and faber,
9780571312191

Frances Lincoln, 9781847804327

Frances Lincoln,
9781847804327

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Library (NOT the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

For those of us who have been involved with libraries for most of their working lives it is wonderful to see the support that we are getting in this time of hardship and with this book Wendy really sings the praises of the library and what it can do to to widen our horizons.  This is a picture book, so it is aimed at young readers in a way that they can appreciate; the text is in rhyme and the illustrations are bright and vibrant .  It is full of energy and the humour that I have come to expect from Wendy’s work, having read some of the Wendy Quill books in the past.

Made by Raffi,   by  Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlaimn

there seems to have been an increase in the number of books showing ‘diversity’ in its many forms and I have noted several about sewing and knitting particularly with boys as the main characters.  For older children there is Boys don’t knit by T.S  Easton and for younger readers we have this book .  It is about a young boy, Raffi, who enjoys sewing and knitting, but feels he has to keep it secret in order to avoid the teasing and bullying which could ensue from such un-boyish hobbies.  it is a bright cheerful affirmation of wanting to be yourself and not just following the crowd.

Frances Lincoln, 9781847804334

Frances Lincoln,
9781847804334