Christmas Glitters

This is turning out to be a bumper year for titles about Christmas and the winter season. Not only have we got a collection of additions to already popular titles, but we also have a huge range of new characters to bring us Christmas Cheer.

Picture Books

“Little Santa” by Jon Agee  is a delightful take on how Santa became the focus of Christmas that he has become.  It is about doing what is right for you, rather than just following everyone else; a great addition to the Christmas collection.

Little Bear and the Silver Star by Jane Hissey is a look at her famous collection of toys as they start to decorate the tree for Christmas.  When the star for the top cannot be found, Little Bear gets worried.  A midnight visit to the attic eventually finds the hidden glittery star, but then he loses it in the snow outside.  However, with a bit of Christmas magic, the tree eventually has its crowning glory!

The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandoy  is a magical look at what happens to a small Norwegian pine tree as it grows into a tall and strong tree.  It is brought to another country and city (London), where it is the centre of celebrations and helps people remember the true meaning of the festivities.  This is the story of the Trafalgar Square tree that is gifted by the Norwegian people, in thanks for the help they received in WW2.

“The Mice before Christmas” by Anne L Watson and Wendy Edelson is based on the classic story by Clement Clark Moore, however this is about how the mice prepare and spend Christmas.  It is a bright and vibrant story of family and friendship and the joy of the festive season.  There are echoes of the Brambly Hedge stories and you can see this especially in the highly detailed and energetic illustrations.  This is definitely one that should be a classic read.

“Santa’s Stolen Sleigh” (Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton  sees our two heroes, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam back in action.  When Santa’s elves become ill, a polar bear called Flo offers to help with toy making, but then she steals Santa’s sleigh, so she can have a ride.  Luckily things turnout well in the end and Flo is very remorseful.

“Grace and the Christmas Angel” by Lucinda Riley, Harry Whittaker and Jane Ray is a beautiful and timeless story of Christmas, family and the sense of community that is found in fishing villages around the world.  When Grace’s father does not get home for her Christmas concert she worries about his boat, out in a tempestuous sea.  Luckily she has a guardian angel, called Hope, who answers the call and guides the vessels back to port. The illustrations are yet another triumph form the magical Jane Ray and they really add to the joy in te book.

“The Twelve Green Days of Christmas” by Barry Timms and Sian Roberts is another version of the 12 Days of Christmas, however this time it has Santa as the main character and looks at what he sees when he is flying with his reindeer.  The theme is about caring for our planet and being more green about the way we behave.  It is a great and humorous story but with a strong eco message.

“Croc O’Clock” by Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders  is a decidedly modern take on the concept of the 12 days of Christmas, but mixed with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Feeding time at the zoo is exciting as Croc gets increasingly larger meals, until he finally is ready to burst, but of course he doesn’t and his keepers put him on  vegetarian diet for a while.

“The Toys’ Christmas” by Claire Clement and Genevieve Godbout is about a young boy called Noah and his toy elephant called FanFan.  when the latter can’t be found on Christmas Eve, Noah is worried and finding it hard to go to sleep.  But FanFan is on his annual secret mission, together with lots of other toys; they meet up with Santa and let him know what their child would like for Christmas.  This means that everyone gets a present that they wanted and of course on Christmas morning Noah finds his faithful friend is safely home. 

 

Middle Grade Stories

“The Christmas Pig” by J K Rowling and Jim Field.  This is a delightful Christmas story from one of the world’s best known children’s authors.  When Jack’s favourite toy Dur Pig (DP) is thrown out of a car window, he is distraught and even a replacement pig does not help.  This is a totally magical story of lost toys and the love that a child has for a favourite toy.  It is also a story about families, as Jack’s dad has gone and his mum is just beginning a new relationship; however, the daughter of the new friend is not happy and she is the one who threw DP out of the car.  The twin elements of the story are all about accepting change and understanding that there can be new loves, even though you never forget the old.

“Diary of a Christmas Elf” by Ben Miller  tells the story of a young Elf called Tog, who really wants to become one of the toy-makers for Father Christmas.  When things start going wrong and toys are being stolen, can Tog do anything to help solve the mystery, with the help of Santa’s daughter Holly?  This is a great read for the 7-9 age group and will definitely bring on the Christmas spirit.

Clara Claus saves Christmas by Bonnie Bridgman and Louise Forshaw .  When Santa is taken ill just before Christmas, it is up to his children, but especially his daughter Clara, to try and save the day, by making sure all the presents are delivered.  This is a delightful and very funny story for the young confident reader

“How Winston came home for Christmas” by Alex T Smith is the gorgeous follow up to the star |Christmas book from last year.  Once again we have the story told in 24 chapters, so that you can read one for every day of Advent.  This time, Winston is on the hunt for a missing mouse and has lots of adventures on the way.  The book is full of recipes, craft ideas and that magical something that we all want from a Christmas story.  A totally glorious read.

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent and Selom Sunu  shows us a family who take their love of Christmas to the extreme.  They celebrate it throughout the year and can’t understand those who just celebrate in December.   When they move house and Holly starts at a new school, they find they are definitely meeting a lot of “Bah Humbug” feelings, so can they change people’s minds?  A brilliant look at what ‘being different’ can mean and how we can stay true to ourselves, whilst understanding the different views of others.

“The Christmasaurus and the Naughty List” by Tom Fletcher and Shane Devries  is the third adventure featuring this totally unique dinosaur and his friends.  When Santa does his annual weigh-in of the Naughty and Nice lists, he discovers that there are far too many children on the naughty list.  If not enough children receive presents then Christmas cannot take place, and that would be a disaster!  The Christmasaurus decides to intervene and get children moved from naughty to nice.

“The Santa List” by Kieran Crowley is another story about the naughty list.  |this time, the siblings, Aisling and Joe have been playing tricks on their new babysitter and she has sent a letter to Santa, putting them on the naughty list.  Can the children redeem themselves and get on the nice list; that is, if they can recover the list, which they have managed to lose!  A brilliant read for the festive season.

“A Mouse called Miika” by Matt Haig and Chris Mould is the latest story set in the world that Matt Haig created around “A Boy called Christmas”.  This time the hero is the small mouse, Miika,  who faces moral dilemmas when he wants to be friends with the only other mouse at the North Pole, but they are not as honest as he is, so eventually decisions have to be made.  With the release of the film version of “A Boy called Christmas“, this new story set in the same world is bound to be a hit.

“The Night train” by Matilda Woods and Penny Neville-Lee.  This is a magical story that follows a group of characters as they board the night train, which will take them to a place where their dreams can come true.  However, they have to reach their destination by midnight, otherwise they will not dream;  unfortunately on this night there is an obstruction on the track and everyone has to work together to make things right.  It is a great story for younger readers, with lots of bright and atmospheric illustrations that bring the story alive.

“Winter Story” by Jill Barklem invites us to join the mice of Brambly Hedge as they celebrate the coming of snow and the excitement of preparing for a ‘Snow Ball’.  The preparations are magical; from carving out a huge ballroom in the snow, to everyone baking and cooking a huge feast for everyone to share.  this gives a warm and cosy feel to the reader.

“Wishyouwas” by Alexandra Page.   It is the lead up to Christmas 1952 and Penny Black has been sent to stay with her Uncle Frank, who runs a small post office in central London.  Penny’s mother is a pilot for the Royal Mail and flies post to Europe and back; but Penny is hoping that she will be back home in time to celebrate Christmas.  What Penny does not expect, is to discover what she initially thinks is a rat, but turns out to be something very special indeed.  This small creature speaks English and says his name is ‘Wishyouwas’; he is a ‘Sorter’ and this group of creatures have made it their purpose to try and retrieve lost post and make sure it finds its rightful recipient.  However, the Sorters are under threat from the Royal Mail Rat Catcher and Penny finds herself trying to save them and prove how useful they would be to the service.  This is a wonderful story about friendship, family and also being open to new ideas and accepting others who are very different.  Alexandra Page has created a new Christmas classic and I know it will be a firm favourite for children and adults alike.

“A Night at the Frost fair” by Emma Carroll and Sam Usher  is a wonderfully evocative time slip adventure in which the young Maya finds herself transported back to the Frost Fair of 1788, where she meets a young boy called Eddie.  She thinks he is being kidnapped, but finds that he has run away from home, because he is being treated as an invalid and not allowed any freedom.  How Maya helps him and also makes changes to lives in the present day, makes for a perfect Christmas tale.

“The very Merry Murder Club”, edited by Robin Stevens and Serena Patel is a collection of murder and mystery stories, written by some of our most talented writers for Middle Grade readers.   The stories range from dead bodies to stolen treasures and each of them gives the reader opportunities to use their “little grey cells”.  This has kept me happily engrossed over several days waiting to collect someone in my car.

 

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.

Federation of Children’s book groups conference

My first big gathering of this year and so many friends to catch up with.  I have now been back from the conference for two weeks and I am just coming down from the clouds.  It really was an amazing event.  As always the exhibition was full of children’s publishers showing us their latest wares and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.  It is always such a pleasure to meet up with these wonderful people and to come away with such goodies to read.

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One of the things we love about children’s book conferences is the opportunity to meet and listen to so many stimulating and exciting speakers, both writers  and illustrators, as well as the amazing Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow books.  As always we were treated to a generous amount of cake over the weekend, washed down by cups of tea and coffee.

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The weekend started with a truly inspirational talk about poetry by Sarah Crossan, the author of  “Weight of Water” and “Apple and rain”.  As small children we are totally surrounded by rhyme, from nursery rhymes to the work  of people such as Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd,but as we get older poetry is moved within a fence that many find difficult to overcome.  There are some authors who use rhyme in their novels but it is a concept that we need to get back to.  If we look at the history of storytelling we find that many of the major cultural tales are told in a poetic form; just like song lyrics,  which we find easier to remember.

Saturday morning started with a session on writing non-fiction, with a panel of Nicola Davies, Nicola Morgan and Marcia Williams in conversation with Zoe Toft.  All three authors have carved out a niche for themselves in this area and although they have very differing styles, they all appeal to their intended audiences.  Nicola Davies writes narrative non-fiction and approaches the task in the same way as writing fiction.  Nicola Morgan on the other hand feels that the two disciplines are very different and that over the years she has “lost the fiction muscles in her brain”.  Marcia Williams was enthused by a teacher who would read out loud to the class.  All three described how they had gradually developed their writing style and what influences had affected them.

The next session was with Tom Moorhouse who has written “The River Singers” and “The Rising”, about a family of water voles. Tom is a naturalist by profession and spoke about the reality of life for these animals as opposed to the images from books such as “Wind in the Willows”.  It was a fascinating talk and I know it will have made many new converts to his books.

The afternoon was taken up by the larger than life characters of Kjartan Poskitt, Philip Ardagh and Simon Mayle.  All three authors write humourous novels for primary age children, although Kjartan is renowned for the way that he brings maths alive to his audiences.  Our speaker at dinner was the amazing Frank Cottrell Boyce who was celebrating the launch of his latest book “The Astounding Broccoli  Boy”

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Sunday morning was another action packed session with a talk by Kate Wilson about Nosy Crow and how they have developed both their apps and the hard copy versions of the books.  It was great to hear that books are still a top priority, not least because they are such a variable size and format, whereas with technology you are limited by the size of the screen.  The other two sessions were an Illustrators’ panel with Rob Biddulph (Blown Away), Sophy Henn (Pom Pom gets the grumps) and David Shelton (A boy and a bear in a boat) and then a young adult panel with Non Pratt (Trouble),  Alice Oseman (Soliaire) and Lisa Williamson (The Art of being Normal).  We then finished off with discussions with Steven Butler and the really great Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood and Co.).

By this point were were all totally exhausted but very happy at having attended such a stimulating and very friendly conference.  I have  still only looked at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the books I brought home, but I look forward to many hours of great reading.

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

2014-07-19 11.48.01

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