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Christmas Countdown Week 1

9 Dec

The Advent Book Tree of Joy is working its magic again this year. With one book to open each night in the build up to Christmas, the first week has brought back some old favourites…

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Are You Ready For Christmas

Santa is Coming to Sussex

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me

Winter’s Child
(For a chance to win a copy of Winter’s Child, visit my previous post!)

And introduced some new…

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The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson (Macmillan) is a joy to read. A heart warming story that captures the essence of the school play beautifully. Told from the point of view of a little boy who is not entirely sure what his role is, children will relate to and laugh along with the ups and downs of rehearsals. It is also brilliantly funny for any parents and teachers who have been through one too many school Christmas shows in their time -the illustrations show the truth behind the tinsel. Nose-picking, wardrobe malfunctions, grumpy angels and the small child in his own world in the middle of the stage. With loads going on in Rebecca Patterson’s full of character illustrations, I think this is one we’ll come back to year after year in the build up to our own Christmas Show. It also makes a really awesome present for stressed out teachers at this time of year!

Usborne Christmas Stories for Little Children
Look at that… for children! Not for boys or for girls but actually for all children. Woo hoo!!! I love that this book has been marketed for kids and is beautifully non gender-stereotyped. This collection of six stories is a lovely addition to our advent tree. Mollie loves the humour in the stories and I love their traditional Christmas feel. Fun stories that celebrate trying your best, believing in yourself and being kind to others. What’s not to love?

Santa’s Christmas Handbook by Santa’s Elves (Templar).
This book is AMAZING!
Written by Santa’s elves (with a little help from Christopher Edge) Santa’s Christmas Handbook contains everything he needs to know to make the Christmas deliveries run smoothly. With help on reindeer care, navigation, present refilling and delivering, rooftop and chimney safety and a full explanation of all the new gadgets on Santa’s sleigh, I’m pretty confident that Santa is going to have the easiest Christmas Eve yet. The book contains loads of fun information, flaps to lift, games to play and even an insta-chimney. There really is tons to look at and play with in this book. I am hooked!

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A perfect Christmas Eve present to keep over-excited children entertained and really build up the magic.

Source- Santa’s Christmas Handbook, The Christmas Show, Usborne Christmas Stories for Little Childrenall bought for The Advent Book Tree of Joy.

The countdown to Christmas

1 Dec

I have my Christmas socks on and the house is covered in glitter. My coffee is flavoured with gingerbread and there’s mince pie crumbs in the kitchen. Hurrah!!!! It must be time to bring out this year’s advent book tree!!

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A mix of old favourites to be rediscovered and new friends to be made. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that there are more than 24 in this stack. I just couldn’t stop!!! I was given so many delicious recommendations last year and some beautiful new books have been published this year. What’s a girl to do?

Stay tuned and I’ll post some of our favourites as they are opened. And please do join in and share your favourites – I have some wrapping paper left!!

Happy advent everyone! Go and treat yourself to a mince pie ­čÖé

Wriggly Nativity

30 Dec

Picture books help children (and all of us) learn about the world around us – past, present and potential. And oh how children love to learn! Any new experience will inspire questions and ideas, and books support these questions – as well as the parents who are desperately trying to answer them against the repetitive ‘why? Why? WHY?’

When children start school they enter into the beloved tradition of the nativity play. Whether it follows the traditional route or is a more modern affair with lobsters and space aliens, there is always a central story and one that is often told through song. The crazy rehearsals, learning of lyrics and staging (and the lobsters) don’t often leave room for explaining the actual story. This year my daughter was in her first nativity play and we have had Questions. Oh so many questions. We are not religious at all but are trying to explain the nativity story in a way that sates her curiosity, fulfils her need for a story and allows her to form her own opinions. Not easy. Out come the books. Twitter pals are consulted. Off we go to the library. As most parents go through the nativity play experience in one form or another I am doing a quick overview of the books we’ve been recommended, stumbled across and hunted down. Yes it’s too late for this year, but next year you might thank me for the heads up.

The book that has the most accessible story – for those who really want to understand the basic story and learn what is going on behind the tea towels and the tinsel – is Usborne’s The Very First Christmas by Louie Stowell and Elena Temporin.

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The text is child friendly, simple but warm:
‘When they arrived, it was nearly dark. Joseph knock-knock-knocked at the door of an inn. “I’m sorry,” said the innkeeper, “but we don’t have any room.” So Joseph knocked at another door, and another and another. But no one had any room for them.’
The illustrations give children a real sense of time and place, working beautifully with the text to enhance children’s understanding of the story. This book is the perfect introduction to the story, characters and concept. The story is pitched at a high enough level to remain easy to follow but with enough detail to answer all the questions arising from tea towel rehearsals. Brilliant.

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The Lion, the Unicorn and Me by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach (Scholastic) is my absolute favourite and went down beautifully with my 4 yr old. I admit that I’m biased as Ms Winterson is my favourite grown-up-book author. If you know her adult work you will feel at home with this as her style and voice shine through. But I’ll also admit that what I find beautiful might make the book a bit too much for younger children – the language use may go over their heads a little. But that’s no bad thing – it just might lead to yet more questions!
‘The kings came inside even though there was no inside left now that we were blown inside out, time past and future roaring round us like a wind, and eternity sitting above us, like angels, like a star.’

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me tells the nativity story from the point of view of the donkey and revels in the celebration and joy and extraordinariness of the story. Using the donkey’s perspective to tell the story in first person brings a delicious immediacy to the story. It is also funny- quirky and a bit bonkers – which is sure to catch a child’s imagination:
‘My master Joseph was an optimistic man. He knocked at the door. The innkeeper opened it, and the boy who had been sleeping in the letterbox fell out. “No room,” said the innkeeper…”Listen,” said the innkeeper, “you think I’m joking?” He pointed upwards, into the beams, where five spiders were looking gloomily at six infants whose father had knotted the webs into hammocks.’

The illustrations are delicate and magical and I love that they show a range of skin colours. Hurrah!
I love The Lion, the Unicorn and Me for it’s fresh perspective, giving children a different experience of the story and using language to show them the excitement and the magic.

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The Fourth Wise Man (Lion Hudson) is great for linking the nativity story to children’s experience of life. It approaches the story from the point of view of a fourth wise man. It tells a relatively traditional story whilst linking it beautifully with the creation of Santa.

The four wise men are gazing at the stars when they see a special star signalling the birth of a great king. The fourth wise man is younger and is immediately shown to be a bit different – dreamy and whimsical. The wise men travel to find the king and along the way the fourth wise man tries to find a suitable gift to give him. He can’t find anything that seems right so when they arrive at the stable he waits outside and brings water for their camels. The special star is reflected in the water, it is so beautiful that he rushes inside to give it to the baby. The next day he is so filled with joy that he uses the coins he didn’t spend on a gift to buy presents for all the market children. ‘And somehow, there was still some money left in the bottom of his purse. ‘I shall buy gifts to make children smile,’ he said.’

The Fourth Wise Man is a gorgeous book and a lovely way to link the nativity story with children’s understanding of Christmas. The illustrations are rich and soaked in colour, making the book feel exotic and magical.

Brian Wildsmith’s A Christmas Story (Oxford) is perfect for children who have got the hang of the story.

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It tells the story of the donkey’s baby who is left behind when it’s mother takes Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. He misses his mother so much that Rebecca, who is taking care of him, decides to travel after Mary and Joseph. Their journey follows the story and children who know the nativity tale will be able to spot the elements in the illustrations. The new edition released this year (2013) has beautiful gold additions in the illustrations and a pull out nativity scene to make.

For older children, or those familiar with the story, The First Christmas (Puffin) by Jan Pienkowski is visually stunning. Available in small gift book format with a metallic silver cover, this is a book to stroke and cherish.

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Jan Pienkowski has joined the text from the King James Bible with modern fairy tale silhouettes to create a beautiful book to share with children. Again, because the text is taken from the bible the language will create more questions than it will answer but for a visual treat, The First Christmas is a must.

And for a slightly different perspective, 1989’s Nativity Play by Mick Inkpen and Nick Butterworth (Hachette), and it’s contemporary partner The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson (MacMillan) show the children (and let’s be honest- the parents) what a nativity play is all about. The highs and lows, the butterflies, the wardrobe malfunctions, all are reproduced here.

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And while you’re here, why not have a look at these books for a little nativity rehearsal relief. For the kids, the teachers and you!

Source: The Very First Christmas; The Fourth Wise Man; Nativity Play borrowed from our lovely local library.
The Lion, the Unicorn and Me; The First Christmas; A Christmas Story bought for our bookshelves.
Special thanks to Loll at Storyseekers for the recommendations.

Merry Christmas, Pip!

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I do love a well thought out and designed activity book. When done well they can be an absolute joy – boredom-busting, educational, inspiring and above all, FUN!

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The Merry Christmas, Pip! Sticker Activity Book was the perfect surprise for Mollie to pull out of her artist’s explorer satchel during the drive to Grandma and Grandad’s house this weekend. It kept her happily sticking and spotting and colouring as well as building the Christmas excitement nicely.

Pip is, as always, beautifully gender-free and dressed in a range of wintry outfits of all colours, including elf and fairy. I love how accessible this makes the book – it genuinely is for *children* and is the perfect antidote to the ‘activity book for girls’ and ‘activity book for boys’ madness that drives me bonkers.

Including puzzle favourites like sticker pages, mazes, word searches and spot the differences, Merry Christmas, Pip! also includes some wonderfully festive and inspiring drawing ideas. Draw Pip’s Christmas costume, decorate a Christmas card or design a poster for a Christmas film.

Brilliant fun, lots to do, and not a gender-stereotype in sight! Hurrah for Pip!

Source: kindly sent for review by the Secret Santas at Hodder Children’s books.

Father Christmas Comes up Trumps

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This is the time of year when primary school teachers start to wander around with a bit of a twitch and a blank stare. They are trapped in week four of rehearsals for The Christmas Show. Some may be lucky enough to be getting theirs over and done with this week so they can enjoy some Christmas sparkle next week. The ones that are rocking quietly in the corner or babbling incoherently are the poor souls who have their Christmas Shows scheduled for the last week of term.
Let’s give them a moment’s silence here.

They need it.

Low level fiddling, listening to the same song sung badly for two hours straight, lost costumes, tea towels that will not stay on heads, 4 squillion “I need a wee” requests, the inappropriate questions (what is a virgin, Miss? Is this story true? When does Santa get here?) and the obligatory child that always wanders off stage in the middle of a song.
It is not fun.
The children are bored and restless. The staff are suffering from a horrible combination of boredom and desperation. It’s Christmas, people! But this is not fun!

Enter The Secret Weapon….

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Father Christmas (or Nicholas Allan) is here to save the day with a boredom-busting riot of primary school toilet-related festive fun. Hurrah! And Father Christmas Needs a Wee even involves counting – it’s practically on the curriculum!

Father Christmas Needs a Wee is an original play on the Father Christmas’ routine story. At every house he eats and drinks the treats that have been left for him, travelling from house 1 to 10. But when he reaches number 10 he realises he has been so busy slurping and munching that he has forgotten to leave the presents! And he REALLY needs a wee! Hilarity ensues as he races back through the houses and tries to deliver all the presents without wetting his Santa suit.

Including various treats from different cultures is a nice touch, as is the lack of gendering in the presents that Father Christmas leaves. There’s a lot to like about this book. It also includes my favourite ever ‘face of relief’ illustration.

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The sequel, Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps, is a brilliant book for reading aloud. It has classic ‘the teacher nearly said Fart’ moments throughout and is perfect for giving bored and overexcited little ones the chance to let off a bit of steam (!) and roll about on the carpet giggling.

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The rhyming text is full of pace and builds the tension beautifully. Children will be squealing with delight! And after all, that is what Christmas is for. Delight and children. We often forget that children need to go crazy and giggle and run around like a fart-powered Santa sleigh. They need and relish and learn from imaginative silliness. Let them have fun! Release them from rehearsal hell and read them these stories! There are even free activity sheets to go along with the books so that teachers and parents everywhere can have a breather.

So if you go into school tomorrow and your child’s teacher is looking pale and a bit frazzled around the edges, pass them this book with a knowing wink. Don’t buy these books for your children… buy them for their teachers. They will thank you for it, I guarantee!

Source: Father Christmas Needs a Wee from our lovely local library
Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps kindly sent for review by the lovely folks at Random House Children’s Books, soon to be donated to the teachers’ sanity cupboard with a big box of chocolates!

Are You Ready for Christmas?

11 Dec

Ooooooo this book is pretty!

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I appreciate that’s not the kind of thought out, meaningful and heartfelt review I usually produce on here. But it’s Christmas, and at Christmas time I like a bit of pretty! I love the glitter and the window displays and the handmade decorations and the metallic sheen on everything. I like the sparkle and the shine and the prettiness! It makes me smile and feel warm inside -all excited and festive.

If you love a bit of Christmas pretty, then Are you Ready for Christmas may well be the book for you! It has a brilliant blend of traditional subject matter and contemporary design and is beautifully illustrated with Helen Lang’s contemporary looking line drawings.

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The gentle little pop ups appear on every other page, with lovely use of foiling with pink and silver metallics throughout, building to a grand-finale-pop-up-of-joy which I won’t spoil for you. It’s too delicious!

Are you Ready for Christmas tells the tale of Reindeer visiting his friends to check whether they are ready for Christmas. Mouse, Squirrel and Dove are busy collecting last minute decorations before the festivities begin. But Reindeer realises he has forgotten his job and hasn’t done his own preparations. His friends save the day in a gorgeous pop out page of festive prettiness and smiles.

The thing I love most about this book is that it fits snugly across a huge age range so is perfect for bringing out year after year and cuddling up and reading together. The board book format makes it accessible for all ages and the rhyming story is simple enough for very young children, but with a concept and design that will still appeal to older children. And adults who like a bit of Christmas pretty!

This is a very beautiful book sure to leave everyone with a festive glow and a warm smile.

Source: kindly sent for review by Templar Publishing

Winter’s Child by Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith

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A haunting Christmas book from Templar by Angela McAllister and Kate Greenaway medal winner Grahame Baker-Smith, Winter’s Child is beautiful. From the moment you look at the cover you know you have something special. The paper has a metallic sheen and catches the light beautifully and Baker-Smith’s illustrations are magical. His fusion of drawing, painting and digital techniques creates a unique style that makes the real seem imagined. He makes magic. This book takes the magic dreamlike qualities of winter and brings them to life, transforming them into intricate glittering illustrations. With so much detail to soak up on every page this is a book to savour slowly, preferably with some page stroking and a large glass of mulled wine.

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Tom loves winter and wishes it could last forever. Everyday he races out to play in the snow and skate on the ice. But his mother is worried about Nana. It is too cold for her and winter has lasted too long. One day Tom meets a pale boy with ice-blue eyes and they play together in the snow, making snow and ice sculptures. Tom tells the strange boy that he doesn’t want winter to end and everyday the boy appears again to race with Tom through the snow and ride on the back of reindeer. But each day there is less food and wood for the family to use, and soon enough there is nothing left. Tom realises that his Nana, and the whole family, need spring to arrive in order to survive. He explains why he no longer wants to play to his wintery friend who disappears into the snow saying, ‘Spring can not wake until Winter and his child are asleep.’

A delicious play on the Jack Frost story that has the warm feel of a remembered traditional folk tale with a contemporary look. This book is going to be a firm favourite for years to come.

Source: kindly sent for review by those clever folk at Templar.

Belle and Boo and the Very Merry Christmas

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I love the Belle and Boo books! We have borrowed The Goodnight Kiss from the library A LOT this year. They have a traditional feel mixed perfectly with a contemporary design. They look beautiful, they feel beautiful and they sound beautiful when read aloud. But most of all, they have that warm and cosy quality. They feel like you know them and have read them a hundred times. They feel like old friends.

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Belle and Boo and the Very Merry Christmas has all the joy of a child’s Christmas wrapped up in a stylish, well designed book. It’s Christmas Eve and Belle and Boo are busy preparing on a frosty, sparkly sort of day. Boo isn’t sure what happens at Christmas, or what to do to get ready, so Belle explains how to make it a special time for everyone and together they prepare for the festivities. They decorate the tree that smells so green and foresty, they make paper chains and Christmas cards, spiced cakes and gingerbread stars.

Boo is so full of Christmas magic and excitement that he can’t sleep that night. He finally falls asleep just as something exciting and magical happens outside! Christmas Day arrives and Belle and Boo remember to make it special for everyone, with a lovely present for the birds and animals outside. A beautiful touch that will inspire children to think about giving and sharing at Christmas, and may even get them out into their own garden or park to see what they could make for their furred and feathered friends.

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A perfect book for the Christmas build up, Belle and Boo and the Very Merry Christmas is a great antidote to all the corporate Christmas madness. Take a day to spend with a child in your life. Suck up that Christmas awe and wonder and magic. Give them this book with some pine cones, some brown paper and some glitter and glue, and see what they can achieve. I bet it will make memories for both of you that will outlast any plastic toy on the market.

Source: kindly sent for review by the lovely folk at Orchard.