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

2014-12-02 11.38.29

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.

2014-12-09 11.24.33

Red Fox, 9781849416498








One Little Angel by  Ruth Brown

2014-12-02 11.38.09

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

2014-12-02 11.38.43

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.

2014-12-02 09.14.18

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.

2014-09-04 11.39.52








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

2014-12-09 11.25.19

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.


2014-12-09 11.24.51

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.

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

2014-08-27 14.49.31

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


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


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

2014-07-19 11.48.01


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,

Frances Lincoln, 9781847804327

Frances Lincoln,









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,