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.

 

A world of Art

The various ‘lock-downs’ that we have had over the last year or so, has meant that many exhibitions have not taken place and there has been no opportunity to go to galleries in order to lift the spirits.  Thankfully so many museums and art galleries have taken up the challenge and have provided a wealth of material online.  There have also been a range of books that look at the world of art and hopefully these will encourage young readers to explore the creative world and to produce their own work in the future.  These are just some of the books that I have seen in the last year and they have greatly enhanced my appreciation of the talent that is there for us to admire, as well as to try and emulate.

Mention the War, 9781911255673

“Flying High in the Sunlit Silence: the aviation art of Jack Berry.  I came across the book when it featured on a programme on the TV and just had to get a copy for myself.  The author is a young autistic boy called jack and he was 13 years old when the book was published.  I was attracted to the book because it features aircraft, but it also has articles by a variety of aviation veterans, as well as the beautiful poem “Say Something Nice” by A.F.Harrold

Kingfisher, 9780753444542

“Who’s in the Picture?” by Susie Brooks  is a delightful look at 20 famous paintings and the images within them.  It is aimed at possibly KS1 children and encourages them to ask lots of questions.  It is a great introduction to the huge range of what we call ‘Art’.

Scallywag Press, 9781912650170

“A gallery of Cats” by Ruth Brown is a delightful and quirky look at art, as a young boy called Tom wanders through an Art Gallery.  Instead of the artists we see the works through they eyes of cats which have been placed in the paintings.  It gives a really fresh and original take on the images that we see.

Book Island, 9781911496151

“The bird within me” by Sara Lundberg is a remarkable look at the early life of the Swedish artist Berta Hansson.  It has been shortlisted for the 2020 Kate Greenaway Medal, which of course looks at the illustration in the nominated titles.  The publisher is the wonderful small company Book Island Books which is based in Bristol and specialized in picture books in translation; they are a favourite of mine.

Phaidon, 9781838660802

“Yayoi Kusama covered everything in dots and wasn’t sorry” by Fausto Gilberti is something of a surprise for me.  I could not believe that I had not come across the artist’s name before, even though she has been creating her work for most of my life.  It is amazing what someone can create using just one basic shape, but this artist brings colour, shape and design together to amaze us with her work.

“Bob goes POP!” by Marion Deuchars is the third in the series about the small black bird called Bob.  This time he is trying his hand at POP art and finds himself in competition with another artist called Roy.  How they overcome their differences and produce some very positive results makes for a delightful take on the modern art scene.

Laurence King, 9781786277718

“Lets make great ART: Colours” by Marion Deuchars is part of a series by this author in which she looks at different aspects of art.  Other works in the series include ‘Pattern’ and ‘Animals’. They are all aimed at the youngest of readers, as they gain confidence with drawing tools and the art of ‘Mark Making’.  The get the imagination flowing.

Usborne, 9781409598893

“How Art works” by Sarah Hull is aimed at the teenage and adult  reader, who want to understand more about the world of art.  It has to be said that for many this is a very difficult area to get to grips with, but this book asks the sort of questions that we all want to ask.

 

“Why do we need Art ?” by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young asks us some of the major questions about Art.  It does not look at individual works of art in depth but does examine

Wayland, 9781526312587

where the concept of art comes from, what it means to us now and why do we need art in our lives.  It is very up to date, in that it looks at the impact of ‘Black Lives matter’ as well as the experiences of those who have been been outside of mainstream art; this includes poets, artists, sculptors and writers.

Thames and Hudson, 9780500652206

“Modern Art Explorer” by Alice Harman and Serge Bloch allows the reader to dip into some of the great artists of the 20th and 21st century.  The book include artists, sculptors, textile artists, and those who create large scale installations.  Some of the artists are household names, such as Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo but others are know to more specialized audiences.  This makes this book a good choice to dip into as a way of discovering new works.  The text is quite chatty in style and would be suitable for maybe young people over the age of 10 years.

 

 

Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

I have to say, with no exaggeration,  that I have been a great fan of this author for well over 20 years.  I was lucky enough to meet her in the late 1990s, when she came to do an event for Bristol Libraries, talking to a large group of school children.  It is one of my earliest experiences of  an author event in a public library, but I think I have made up for it since then.

This link to an interview with the wonderful Jake Hope is a fascinating look at the author and her beautiful collection of work. https://www.cilip.org.uk/blogpost/1637344/354662/An-Interview-with-illustrator-Ruth-Brown

This latest book is a totally delightful re-working of the old counting rhyme that has been popular with young children for so many generations.  We start out with ten small puppies of assorted varieties and through the book we count down, as one by one they are caught out by their adventurous behaviour.  As you would expect, the text is in rhyme and I am delighted by the way that Ruth Brown has maintained the rhyming structure and yet has brought the language up to date.   I love the way that the author has moved the action between different pages; the backgrounds range from the seaside to the park and also the various back gardens.  We see the puppies playing with sticks, garden hoses, food bowls and even chasing butterflies, as well as being nipped by a crab at the seaside.  This gives a superb opportunity for discussion with the children about their experiences with puppies, or they might not have had any contact but will be fascinated by the antics of those they see on the page.

Anyone who has ever come into contact with small dogs will recognize the body language that the author portrays in her illustrations.  The images are full of energy and the excitement in life that young dogs have in abundance.  The situations that they find themselves in is very believable and I am sure that most dog owners will have seen some of these hilarious events.  The humour and the movement are elements that really stand out and make this a book that will become a favourite in years to come; both for reading to groups and  as a book to enjoy with a child or grandchild.

I was recently looking through a folder of old newspaper cuttings and came across the one relating to Ruth’s visit to Bristol Libraries; it was in the “Bristol Observer” for Friday 13th November 1998.  Ruth was there to help us launch the start of the “Bookstart” project in Bristol

Ruth Brown

Ruth BrownRuth Brown is the creator of some of Britain’s best loved children’s books. She was born in Devon and now lives in London and Kent. Ruth’s books are translated in many languages around the world, and she has won the Earthworm Award, the English Association Award, the Prix Sorcière and been shortlisted 3 times for the Kate Greenaway Medal.  Scallywag Press

“Brown, whose exceptional draughtsmanship makes all her books a feast, visits a gallery with a difference in this picture book about cats and artists. A book to lead readers to 13 painters from Mondrian to Munch and Kahlo to Klimt.” Sunday Times Culture Magazine

The Eye of Mogdrod by Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins

There is something quite fascinating about pirates and even ex-pirates; the stories have been sparking  the imagination of readers both young and old for many years.  As a child my first encounter with the idea was watching episodes of ‘Captain Pugwash’ on the television and then later on discovering the wonders of ‘Treasure Island’.  If I thought really hard about it, I am sure that there were other pirates in books, but I definitely remember those to be found in the swashbuckling adventures of actors such as Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster; Sunday afternoon was full of old films that kept us happy on a cold winter’s day.  Today we have the whole range of films such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Goonies’, as well as a host of books for all ages.  As a librarian for a School Library Service I was constantly being asked for collections of titles about pirates and whilst there are lot of amazing titles about real-life buccaneers, it is also fantastic to be able to create imaginary worlds with a wide range of characters.  This would definitely have been part of my collection at work..

Flyntlock Bones is the unlikely hero of this series for all serious wannabee pirates.  He is the cabin boy aboard the vessel “The Black Hound” , but the crew are not what you might expect.  They are all ex-pirates and have become ‘Pirate Investigators’ who help retrieve stolen treasure.  This second adventure sees them asked to retrieve a precious gold goblet that has been stolen from Fergus McSwaggers, the chief of one of the clans in the Boglands; the only problem is that he is the brother of the cook on board the ‘Black Hound’ and they have not spoken for quite a while.  The plot deepens as they try and discover who has stolen the goblet.  The consensus is that it was probably a giant cat-like creature called the Mogdrod, that is feared but rarely seen and is said to love shiny things.  When Flyntlock, his friend Red and the rest of the crew are captured by Gretel the Sea Witch, they discover that Mogdrod is her ‘Kitty’ and that she had taken the goblet.  To further complicate the story, the treasure is then taken by the Ice Pirates and it is up to the crew to rescue it again.

This is a fantastic and very funny story for the young reader, who is just growing in confidence.  The author has this real ability to make even the most fantastic of stories seem real.  His previous series about an elfling sky cowboy called Will Gallows has been a favourite of mine for a few years now.  As you can see from the images, Mark Elvin has produced the most amazing illustrations that bring the story to life and which are so intricate that the reader can spend quite a bit of time working their way through all of the detail.

I was delighted to be asked to join in the celebrations for the launch of this brilliant book and I look forward to reading further adventures in the future.

If you love this story as much as I did, why not read some more pirate adventures and take part on “Talk Like a Pirate day” on Sunday 19th September this year.

 

Derek Keilty

Meet the author

Derek KeiltyDerek Keilty lives in Belfast and is the author of over ten books for children. His work has been translated into many different languages, selected for the Richard and Judy Club and shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year.

 

Mark Elvins Personal website

Derek KeiltyMark Elvins lives in Yorkshire. When he’s not drawing pirates he’s a print-maker and recently won an English Heritage competition to illustrate the displays at Whitby Abbey.