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.

 

Return to Cheltenham

For the first time in about 10 years I decided to pay a visit to the “Book it” section of the Cheltenham Literature Festival.  This was mainly because I could not fit in all the authors I wanted to see at Bath (I was on duty) and also because it was announced that the amazing Jane Churchill would be stepping down from her role as children’s coordinator at the end of this year.

I decided on the second Sunday of the event because Bath was over and there were several panels of writers that I wanted to see.  Perhaps the nicest thing about the Cheltenham venue is that it is in the Town Hall and on the green, which enables little activities to be taking place outside.  There was a real buzz about the place as children enjoyed learning circus skills, face painting and various other craft subjects.  Luckily the weather was fine and there was a really wonderful atmosphere.

the day started of with a session by Gillian Cross and Sally Nicholls talking about their books  “Shadow Cat” and “An Island of their own”.  The first story is about two young people brought together by circumstances and who form a common bond as they try and save a captive Serval and the second book is about a group of three siblings who are left some jewelry by an elderly aunt, but the catch is that she has hidden it and they have to go on a search.  It was great to hear two such talented writers speaking about their plots and how they came up with their stories.

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Holly Webb and Kate Saunders

I then attended a fascinating session by Holly Webb and Kate Saunders about their respective books which carry on two very famous classic novels.  Holly has written “Return to the Secret Garden”, whilst Kate has given us “Five Children on the Western Front”.  Both books have  a wartime setting, the Western front being WWI and the Secret Garden featuring refugees in WWII.  They are definitely  worth having a read of and provide an added perspective on times gone by.  I have just started reading Holly’s book but I read Kate’s book a while ago and it is a superb read, having been nominated for several awards..

 

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Shoo Rayner

The book tent was full of authors signing books for their fans and I was lucky enough to meet up with Shoo Rayner and then saw Tracey Corduroy and Michael Morpurgo from a distance.  Shoo had been talking about his new book “Dragon White“, which follow on from the previous title “Dragon Gold” and links a modern story with the myths of Wales and Merlin.  It is a similar theme to that used by Sarah Mussi in her book “Here be Dragons”, although her work is for a teen audience.  Shoo’s dragons are great for the younger confident reader.

 

 

 

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Katherine Woodfine

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Robin Stevens

My final event was one that had sold out and several of my friends were quite envious, it felt like having a ‘Golden Ticket’.  This was with Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine, both of whom have written brilliant books that I have mentioned in several blogs already.  They are “First Class Murder”, the third in the Wells and Wong mystery series and “The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow”, the first in a series.  There was great elation when they both announced that new titles will be published in February and March 2016.  From Robin we will see “Jolly Foul Play”  and from Katherine it will be  “The mystery of the Jewelled Moth“.  I can’t wait to read both of them.  There is quite an interest in mixing history and mysteries and these two writers are  excellent examples of the sub-genre.

I must admit that I came away from this day in a bit of a golden glow.  There were so many lovely friends that I had seen and had a chat to as well as listening to some fascinating authors.  Most of all these festivals remind us that there are huge numbers of enthusiastic young readers out there, we just need to make sure that they are being shown books that they will enjoy.  I definitely think that Cheltenham is back on my map, even though my heart is in Bath.

“We will remember them”

This is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing over the period of the World War I Remembrance.  We have spent the last year thinking about the whole concept of the war and the four years of horror that affected so many families across the globe.  From this month, we will no doubt be thinking about individual battles as they took place, but unlike in previous conflicts these battles could last months rather than just a day or so.

I have tried to consider the best way to arrange the books that I am going to highlight in the blogs, but apart from a slight grouping by age range I have decided not to put them into any ‘box’.  Before last year there had always been a small number of titles that were based in the war period but in the last few months there has been a tremendous increase in works being published.

I first started to think about what books were available well over a year ago, as I knew that schools would be asking for suggestions and I was thinking about a short training session to highlight resources.

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The first collection of books include several that have now reached the category of “modern classic”.  The first of these is “The Singing Tree” by Kate Seredy (Viking, 1939), which was a Newbery Honor book in the USA but which did not come to the UK until 50 years after its publication.  Unusually it is set in Hungary and shows a different focus from those we are used to. “The Rinaldi Ring” by Jenny Nimmo (Mammoth, 1999) is the poignant story of a doomed romance during the great war and the mystery that a young boy tries to unravel eighty years later.  For older readers we have the wonderful writing of Theresa Breslin, with her book “Remembrance” (Random House, 2002), which still brings a lump to my throat if I read any of it.  It is the story of five young people who go to war and how they, and their families cope with the consequences.  A series of books that were extremely popular when I started in libraries were the “Flambard” series by K M Peyton and they have just be reprinted, although only one of them actually has a setting in the war they do cover the build up and then the aftermath and the way the whole country was changed by the events.Perhaps one of the best know children’s books about the war is “Private Peaceful” by Michael Morpurgo.  this deeply moving story is now part of the national curriculum and 

there are a group of books which have our relationship with animals at the core of the story.  Sometimes they are based on a true story, whilst others are imaginary events, but based on issues that did occur during the war.  “War Horse”, by Michael Morpurgo has become something of a phenomenon.  Not only has it been an immensely successful film and stage show (I am seeing it for the second time in January 2015), but Michael Morpurgo has put together a really moving event, with readings from the book and songs from the stage  show.  Morris Gleitzman has also written a tribute to the animals that went to war.  His “Loyal Creatures” has taken a similar theme to Morpurgo ( it is based on a workshop script for the “War Horse” tour of Australia) and acknowledges the support he received.  However his work is set in the surrounds of the Dardanelles campaign and Gallipoli and the ending is not as positive as we would like, but it is very realistic and haunting.

One of the highights of the past year was  “the amazing tale of Ali Pasha” by Michael Foreman, which was based on a true story and was the tale of a young sailor from East Anglia who made a lifelongfriend of the tortoise he found in a pot hole in Gallipoli.  The illustrations are atmospheric and often extremely poignant; it really is a lovely book. Another story with a dog as one of the main character’s is “Archie’s War” by Margi McAllister, which follows the life of young Archie as his brother tries to enlist, despite being underage, and the search for the missing son of the ‘big house’.  It tells of the realities of war and the tragic consequences to those who went to war and came back, both injured and traumatized by the experience.

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