Tag Archives: christmas books

There May be a Castle – Piers Torday

6 Dec

This is a beautiful book for snuggling up with on a wintery day. A wonderful celebration of the power of imagination and storytelling, There May be a Castle by Piers Torday is warm and funny and has the feel of an old friend and a future classic.


‘Eleven-year-old Mouse is travelling to see his grandparents on Christmas Eve with his mother and two sisters. But it’s snowing, and visibility is bad, and the car goes off the road, and crashes. Mouse is thrown from the car. When he wakes, he’s not in his world any more. He meets a sheep named Bar, who can only say Baaa, and a sarcastic horse named Nonky, who is a surprising mix of his beloved toy horse and his older sister.

So begins a quest to find a castle in a world of wonder – a world of monsters, minstrels, dangerous knights and mysterious wizards; a world of terrifying danger but also more excitement than Mouse has ever known. But why are they looking for a castle? As the cold grows, we realise it might just have something to do with the family he’s left behind; and that Mouse’s quest is more important than ever.’

I particularly enjoyed the mix of humour and nods to the crazy political world we live in where education has become all about endless testing and form-filling. I also want to raise a glass to the design – it’s just beautiful. Bravo to Rob Biddulph and Nicola Theobald.

One word of warning; there is a small section near the beginning of the book that mentions the non-existence of a certain festive someone. Possibly not the best book to give to a newly-doubting child. But, saying that, probably a helpful book for those newly-knowing.

This is a book I will pull out again and again at this time of year and I fully expect it to become a firm favourite in many homes.

Source – kindly sent for review by the publisher, Quercus Children’s Books

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!

15 Dec

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.

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

Belle and Boo and the Very Merry Christmas

3 Dec

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.

Santa is coming to a town near you!

2 Dec

This competition is now closed. Polly was the lucky winner. Thanks to everyone who entered.

Santa is Coming to Sussex by Steve Smallman and Robert Dunn has been a very pleasant surprise. I am quite sceptical when it comes to personalised books that put your name or town in the spotlight. I worry that they will inevitably lose out on story and become contrived. I’ve had to eat my words with this series though, as Santa is Coming to Sussex has become a special family sharing book since it was plucked from the advent book tree. We love to look through this book together and spot all the places we know and love. The towns we travel through, the buildings we’ve visited, the places our friends live in. I think this is set to come out year after year and hold a special place in our advent celebrations.

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Instead of contriving a story around a town, the Santa is Coming to.. series plays on the Rudolph story, focusing on a young reindeer’s first Christmas as Santa’s helper. Santa is busy arguing with his Santa-nav when they get lost in the cloudy skies and it is up to the youngest reindeer to save the day and direct the sleigh to Sussex. When the youngest reindeer hears bells ringing (in this case, Chichester Cathedral) he pulls the sleigh in the right direction and they land safely in Sussex. Well… almost!

The story shows Santa popping into houses and squeezing down chimneys across the county, nibbling mince pies and sipping a little something as he goes. These pages manage to capture the magic of Santa’s visits and build up beautifully to a double page spread of Santa flying over local buildings we know and love. It’s a delicious touch, to be fully immersed in the magic of Santa and then turn the page to see your town. The magic of Christmas brought home. Literally.

And this book has my favourite illustration of a reindeer so far…

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Maybe I am a sucker for personalised books after all!

If you would like to win a copy of Santa is Coming to London just add a comment below and I will pull one lucky name from Santa’s sack on Thursday evening. UK only.

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Source: Santa is Coming to Sussex bought for the advent tree of joy!
Santa is Coming to London was a slight purchasing error which could potentially work in your favour!

Snowflakes

30 Nov

Every snowflake is different, every snowflake is perfect.

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Cerrie Burnell has made a name for herself as an actress and a children’s presenter on cbeebies, as well as a theatre practitioner. Her theatre show The Magical Playroom is currently touring the UK. Now she has published her first children’s book Snowflake, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. It’s the perfect Christmas cuddle-up book and tells a beautiful, inspiring story about embracing our differences and making new friends.

Mia is a little girl who left her home in a city of streetlights and stars to live with her grandma in the depths of the forest. We aren’t told why she has left her home, and that absence speaks for itself. It allows children to question, and to view the situation from their own imagination, history, or ideological viewpoint. A lovely inclusive touch. I love the way the illustrations enhance and extend the inclusive aspects of the story, truly bringing Mia to life. The text suggests that she doesn’t look the same as the other children but Mia’s brown skin is never mentioned explicitly, it is the illustrations that show the reader. This is a beautifully subtle way of reproducing children’s experiences of encountering diversity.

Mia’s grandma is full of warmth, in the text descriptions as well as the gorgeous illustrations. Who wouldn’t want her as their grandma?

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But Mia hardly knows her and has only heard of forests in storybooks, everything is new and different and she doesn’t look the same as the other children. She is nervous of her new beginning. Her days are full of new experiences; her first encounter with hens, her first feel of snow. Her first visit to school! The shining moon and the perfect snowflakes remind Mia that everyone is different and everyone is perfect and she embraces her new start, her new found friend, and her new home.

A touching story that will entertain and inspire children. A beautiful way to introduce equality and inclusion, and to soothe worries about new beginnings, this book feels gentle and warm and natural. Particularly impressive as Snowflakes is the debut picture book from both author and illustrator! I’m excited about seeing them both grow and explore their talents.

Source: bought from my lovely local children’s bookshop, Bags of Books.

Jolly Snow, Feather-Snow and the joy of play

26 Nov

Jane Hissey’s Old Bear is a true children’s classic and I am thrilled to be stroking a limited edition copy of one of Old Bear’s adventures, Jolly Snow.

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I wrote here about loving local, and Jane Hissey is an East Sussex gal, just like me. Her Old Bear books have recently been published by Brighton independent publisher Salariya and Old Bear, Little Bear, Ruby, Blue, Jolly and the crew are ready to be introduced to a new generation of children.

I have a real soft spot for Jane Hissey’s illustrations. Her art work is so beautiful and realistic and I am constantly amazed and inspired by her ability to draw texture. Rabbit and Little Bear’s fluff, Jolly’s softness and Old Bear’s bare bits! How does she do it? She is a very talented lady.

In Jolly Snow, Jane draws the perfect fluffy floating feather and captures wooly scarves and corrugated cardboard perfectly. It is, as always, stunning. But the best thing about this book is her ability to capture childhood adventure.

Jolly Tall the giraffe is waiting for some snow to arrive. He has never seen snow and wants to experience it. His friends are determined to help and together they explore different types of ‘snow’ around their home. Little Bear has a snow globe, Bramwell Brown shakes flour over dough, and Old Bear scatters snipped paper pieces through the air. White sheets become snowy hills and feathers are flurries of snow as the toys explore and imagine and play.

Jane Hissey’s text beautifully echoes children at play. She has a real ear for children’s language during imaginative play and can recreate scenes of joy and exuberance. Can’t you just hear children shouting ‘Feather-snow!’ at the tops of their voices as they leap into a pile of cushions!

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It’s refreshing to read a book that is full of non gender-stereotyped characters that are fully immersed in imaginary play. This book is showing children what childhood should be like! So let’s all burst open some cushions, get out some cardboard boxes, get our imaginations working and have a good play together.

Source: kindly sent for review by Salariya Children’s Books.