Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

A Christmas Wish for All

Yet again we have a bumper crop of books to celebrate winter and the Christmas season. Among those are some old favourites that have returned, plus a range of fantastic new titles that are going to become firm favourites in the future.  It has got to the point at the moment that I need a longer run up to the festive season in order to get all of my reading done; but of course that means that I get to enjoy the spirit of Christmas for a couple of months.  I hope that you enjoy some of these stories and that they will add to your appreciation of the season.

“A Christmas in Time” by Sally Nicholls is the second adventure for Alex and Ruby as they are taken back to a Victorian Christmas; where they have the task of saving a young ancestor  from being sent to a really awful girls boarding school.  The plot also involves mending family relationships and bringing the true spirit of Christmas to those that they meet.  This is a lovely read for those who are just becoming confident in their reading and I look forward to another story (that was hinted at) in the future.

Tinsel” by Sibeal Pounder  is a truly magical story about the history of Santa Claus.  In this version we have a very strong set of female characters, but of course the men in the story tend to get the wrong end of the stick and assume that  S Claus must be a man.  There is a truly horrible villain, Mr Krampus, named after the scary devil figure found in Germanic festivities leading to Christmas, but just is served at the end.  this makes a really original story and is bound to be a great favourite.

“The Night After Christmas” by Kes Gray and Claire Powell  follows on from last year’s offering “The night before the night before Christmas” and shows us how Santa and Mrs Claus, together with the reindeer and Elves celebrate the completion of their mammoth task every year.  This is an exuberant, funny and so very happy story for younger readers.  Fantastic for reading to classes and all the little ones in your life.

Miracle on Ebenezer  Street” by Catherine Doyle.  The hint is in the title as we are treated to a wonderful re-interpretation of “A Christmas Carol”, but set in the present day and dealing with the aftermath of family bereavement and the profound impact that can be felt for years.  A definite future classic.

“Trouble in a Tutu” by Helen Lipscombe starts off at the Christmas season and is a brilliant mix of spies and ballet.  A full review can be found in my blog post from November.

A Thing called Snow” by Yuval Zommer is the delightful story of two young animals as they discover winter and,in particular, snow for the first time.  The arctic fox and hare have only heard about winter, as they had been born in the spring, so they find the whole experience quite magical.  The author/illustrator has created a wonderland of images for us and it is a story that works on so many levels and is an absolute delight.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas: Grandma is overly generous” by Alex T Smith is a totally brilliant and hysterical take on the famous song.  As the author says, it is very difficult to remember the list of items sent on the twelve days, so in the end he made up his own list. It is absolutely mad and I can imagine the fun that groups of children will have in trying to act out this song. Once again Alex T Smith has given us an real gem of a book for Christmas.

The Empty Stocking” by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb  is the sort of picture book that gives you a nice warm feeling as you read it.We get to see how things turn Cover Imageout when Santa accidentally puts presents into the stocking of a naughty twin, but leaves nothing for the good sibling.  The magic of Christmas shows that everyone has a good side and that the power of love is limitless.

“Dogger’s Christmas” by Shirley Hughes sees the return of one of the most iconic characters in picture books.  It is the run up to Christmas and young Dave (Dogger’s owner) is getting very excited and puts Dogger safely in the window.  However after the great day, he cannot find his toy and it looks as if  Dogger has gone, however with the help of older sister Bella, miracles can happen.  There are going to be a few tears and lots of Christmas cheer as this gorgeous story reaches its conclusion.

“Trouble on Planet Christmas” by Kate Saunders is the second in the series Cover Imagefeaturing the planet Yule-1 and the Trubshaw family, who find themselves having to help Father Christmas when a rogue inventor threatens to make dangerous toys for presents.  This is a great story for younger readers and the humour is just as infectious as in the first story.  It is yet another brilliant addition to my Christmas shelves.

“The Church Mice at Christmas” by Graham Oakley is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and it is just as wonderful as the first time I read it, all those years ago.  The adventures of the mice and their unwilling ally, Sampson the cat, make for a wonderful story that will be loved by both the adults and children in your life.

“Winter Tales” by Dawn Casey and Zanna Goldhawk  is a stunningly illustrated collection of folk tales from around the world.  Although there are some familiar tales from Europe, there are also stories from China, Japan and South Africa and they all have the ability to uplift the spirit.  Definitely a great collection for a school where you want to be able to read short, but complete, stories during the day.

Letters from Father Christmas” by J R R Tolkien, edited by Baillie Tolkien.  I can’t believe it is 100 years since Tolkien started writing these letters to his children.  This centenary edition is much longer that the original edition from 1976, which was called “The Father Christmas Letters” and which was also edited by Baillie Tolkien.  The magic that the author was able to create for his family shouts to us from the page and I am sure that there are many families where following his example has become something of a tradition.  It is a glorious addition to any Christmas collection.

 

 

 

 

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.

2015-10-23 10.53.11

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

2015-11-25 11.05.27

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.

2016-01-04 13.58.32

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.

2016-01-04 13.57.50

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.

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.

Christmas is coming

Where does time go to?  The older I get, the quicker time passes and I am faced with another Christmas just around the corner.  However this time is slightly different as I have my first grandchild to welcome to the festivities.  This led me to think about the picture books that I can introduce him to over the next few years.  There are some fantastic ones out there, ranging from the very early years to the more sophisticated retelling of stories such as a Christmas Carol.  Here are a few of my favourites

2013-12-19 11.16.55 2013-12-19 11.17.45 2013-12-19 11.21.34 2013-12-19 11.17.30 2013-12-19 11.17.52-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There should be something for everyone

in this collection.  The only other one I would

put in is “Kipper’s Christmas eve” with the

lovely surprise for the children on the last page.

Happy Christmas and good reading.