top ten tuesday

Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

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All I want for Christmas is … well. The answer is pretty obvious. Over the last couple of weeks I have had such lovely book post, I feel Christmas has come already. All I want now is a new pair of PJs and some bath bombs, and I’m set for a good time. 

There are always books I want. I noticed how many picture books made my list. Why is it I feel guilty about stocking up on picture books but not on MG? Picture books not only give us access to beautiful art and visual literacy, they contain some of the most concise and beautifully written stories available. 

Here are ten books I want Santa to bring. In the meantime, I wish all TTTers who celebrate a Merry Christmas. Have a good one guys. birdThe Snow Lion by Jim Helmore – lonely Caro befriends The Snow Lion. They explore together, but Caro must step out on her own. A story about self-belief. I wanted this book before I knew what it was about. The colour pallete is beautiful and I love the art work. The effect of the story and illustrations together reminds me of Raymond Briggs, and I am a HUGE Briggs fan.

 

Daemon Voices by Phillip Pullman – Theory of story always interests me. It is lovely to see a well-known author publishing a book of essays. Authors, especially those as well-established as Pullman, are the people who have spent the most time writing. We need to preserve their knowledge. It’s a safe bet that if I receive this, I will disappear and not be seen until New Year.

 

Tell Me A Dragon by Jackie Morris – I collect books illustrated by Jackie Morris. This is a new collection. I have three so far. I have always loved her Christmas card illustrations, and liked her art on Pinterest. Tell Me A Dragon is a great example of how one thing can be imagined infinite different ways.

 

The Lost Words by Rob Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – One of the most successful and reprinted books this Christmas. Since we moved back to Cumbria I have had a chance to see so much more of the natural world – starlings queuing for migration and great murmurations. I hope this book will reconnect people with these things, and get them outdoors.

 

Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling – I’ve written about this a number of times this year, but not got round to buying it yet. This is one to catch up on.

 

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl has told me to read Beetle Boy 120 times. We are going to choose books for each other at the start of the New Year, but you know what? She’s talked about this one so many times she won’t have to choose it for me. Amy, you’ve given me the bug. 😉

 

Petra – ‘I never thought I’d find a rock cute.’ I had this conversation with another book blogger, but it is true. Petra steals your heart from the front cover. This is one I should have bought in the Tate. All the arty-types around me were reading up on tone, and texture and things I won’t even pretend to properly understand. Me? I was squealing over Petra.

 

Leaf – A polar bear is carried to the woods. He makes wings of leaves and tries to fly home. Another book which has been on my wishlist all year. Occasionally a video comes up on Twitter which shows just how divine the artwork is. It captures how many shapes and textures there are in the forest.

 

The Atlas of Monsters – Fiction? Non-fiction? This is a reference book of all the fatastic beasts known to man-kind. As a fan of folklore, of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and of fantasy in general, I have fallen in love with this book. 

 

Moon by Britta Teckentrup – This book captures woodland animals and the atmosphere of a walk in the forest. It is beautiful. This is another book which comes up regularly on my Twitter timeline, and I would love a finished copy. As it is not out until 2018, Santa would have to break-the-law or bribe a publicist with gingerbread to obtain a copy. 

 

 

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Q & A

Guest Post – Anthony McGowan

Anthony McGowan is a prolific author, who has written for children of all ages as well as adults. I am pleased to welcome him for a Q&A about his latest book I Killed Father Christmas. This is a warm-hearted story about the pressure people feel under at Christmas. You can read my review of the book here. 
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Q.  Jo-Jo’s parents are concerned about finances. Do you think modern Christmas puts pressure on people? What do you think could/should be different?
 
A. Christmas has always been a struggle if you’re poor. I was one of five kids, and it must have been incredibly hard for my parents to keep us all happy, presents-wise. Things have got worse – there’s a kind of arms race now with gadgets and gizmos. I suppose I Killed Father Christmas is a deliberate attempt to combat that materialism, by replacing the acquisitive urge to get and give material things with emotion. Jo-Jo is forced in the book to look beyond his own desires and cravings to see and understand the needs of others. And by the end he understand that Christmas is about the love, not the stuff.
 
Q. Jo-Jo overhears a heated comment and comes to the conclusion that Father Christmas is dead. Do you think imagination can be frightening as well as wondrous? How do you think Christmas plays on children’s imaginations?
A. Fear is as much the product of the imagination as joy – a basic principle of writing scarily for adults or children (which I’ve done a lot of) is to make them do the work by imagining horrors you only hint at. But in general fear isn’t a huge part of Christmas, for most children – other than the fear of not getting what you want. My own children used to love imagining the glories to come almost more than the reality. Even now they join in with the fantasy that Father Christmas really comes down the chimney, and my daughter (15) insists on leaving out a mince pie for the fat man in red, and a carrot for the reindeer.
 
Q.   Jo-Jo delivers presents to other children in the neighborhood. What do you think are the most important values at Christmas?
 
A. Kindness, generosity, unselfishness. Actually, these aren’t just the values of Christmas, but the principles we should live by.
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If You Could Create A Cracker … 
 
– Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?
 
A cracker without a terrible joke would be a monstrous sham. The Christmas cracker groan is as much a part of Christmas dinner as the turkey. An example? BNAG – that’s BANG out of order!
 
What sort of hat would you wear?
 
I have a surprisingly huge head – it doesn’t look particularly bulbous from a distance, but that’s deceptive: hats never fit me. Paper ones are always rapidly rent asunder when I try to don them. But one has to show willing. Could I wear my cricket cap?
 
What else would you hope to see inside?
 
Er, another cracker. It would continue, Russian doll style, each cracker containing a smaller doppelganger. The last one – smaller than a Quality Street –  would contain a single sapphire, glittering with a cold, heartless brilliance.
Which fictional character would you pull it with?
 
Jesus. He’d definitely let me win the sapphire. Oh, but I suppose he’s not really fictional … Gandalf, then – he’d use his expertise with fireworks to make sure the cracker really went with a bang.
Guest Post

Guest Post – Staying Sane At Christmas

Today’s post comes from Charlotte of CharlotteSometimes. Who better to give advice on keeping cool at Christmas? There will be no sugar-coat about it. Sometimes we need to face up to the insantiy of the world around us, and figure out where to go from there …

Charlotte is one of my greatest blogging friends, and it is a pleasure to welcome her. 

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I don’t know why Louise suggested me as a person to write about being sane at Christmas. Sanity is not usually my strong point! That said, I do maintain a good level of chill over the festive period. I’ve never really understood why it causes other people so much stress. My boss (who is also a lovely friend) suggested it was because I was so organised and efficient. I nearly choked on my gin. Kidding! I never drink gin at work <innocent face>

 

Here are some of my top tips:

 
1. Lists, Lists and More Lists: I am a list maker. I love lists, and Christmas is when my list making comes into it’s own. I have present lists, card lists, food lists, and my infamous Christmas dinner timeline. I can’t take the credit for the idea (it features in Nigella’s Christmas book). It means that a few days before Christmas I plan what time we want to eat and work back the timings of the day from there. It never fails and I am never flapped about producing a dinner. Granted, I rarely cook for a big group, but the beauty of the list is, it’s easily adaptable to your day and your numbers. Lists are your friends!
 
2. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. Don’t leave all the things until the last minute. No-one wants to be peeling spuds whilst their kids are opening presents from Santa. I start my prep a couple of days before and then on the day itself, it’s all just getting things out of the fridge or cupboards and off we go. Presents? Wrap those babies as soon as you can. I’d love to tell you I don’t leave it until the last minute, but I frequently do and GUYS THAT IS UNNECESSARY STRESS. One year all my labels fell off and caused hell with the wrapping in advance plan. My solution? Screw gift tags! I write the names on with a sharpie. I am all the kinds of classy.
 
3. Don’t Invite Your Family (HAHA) – oh. You think I’m joking. Okay. This is partly tongue in cheek, but there is something to be said for the joy of a quiet day with your immediate family. By all means do the big family thing at some point (we usually decant somewhere over the Christmas break to have a day with all the in-laws) but make time for a few quiet days too. Our Christmases got much less stressful when we stopped trying to travel everywhere to keep everyone else happy. Yes, it’s important that you make time for family, but not at the expense of your own sanity or happiness.
 
4. Find the Fun. Christmas prep can’t all be fun all the time, but you can find fun in even the most stressful situations. One year, my parents were having building work done right before Christmas. On Christmas Eve Eve mum and I went food shopping. The supermarket was rammed. Everyone there was barging and angry. Mum and I had the best time. Why? Because we made it fun. We didn’t mind standing in the queues chatting and laughing on. We were listening to the tannoy guy make all the hilarious sarcastic comments and wondering if we could chop up other orange veg and pretend it was carrots. Christmas Eve, mum and I went to buy all the Christmas presents. We played this game where one of us picked a shop to go in and the other had to find a present in that shop for the next family member on the list! It made for some unusual gift choices, but it took the stress out of the day.
 
5. Routine / Traditions. Find the ones that work for you. Don’t feel the pressure to do all the things with all the people or have the latest “must have” Christmas theme. Want to go to the carol service or the next door neighbour’s cat’s mince pie party? Great! Would rather stick forks in your own eyeballs (like me)? Don’t go. If you want to make your house look like the cover of Ideal Home, crack on. If you’re happy with a piece of tinsel and 5 baubles do that. You do you. You don’t have to ldo what everyone else is doing. That way madness lies.
 
6. Cut the Cr*p. Our Christmas card lists are thousands long, we buy presents for people out of routine, we set things up to show off on social media. No. Stop that! Don’t send cards to people you don’t care about. Cut back the present buying: shave people off the list if you don’t want to swap gifts, suggest a secret santa, make them something, set a limit. Whatever you want. Obligation is not one of the Christmas feels! It has no place here. Don’t set things up just for how the photos will look later. I’ll let you in on one of my best kept secrets: just because it’s not on Faceache doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
 
7. Treat Yourself. Christmas is the season for giving right? It’s also the season for a bit of indulgence and enjoying yourself. So treat yourself, even if that’s just to half an hour’s peace in the bath or sitting down with a hot drink to watch something on the TV. Make sure that you make time to recharge yourself and do something that you enjoy just for you!
 
8. Naps! They’re not just for babies and old people. Christmas is exhausting. The days are darker, it’s colder, all our spare time is taken up doing things. If you have a child in your life you will be up until the early hours and then again shortly after with the excitement of Santa. Overtiredness is no good for anyone. Mix that with indulgent food, alcohol and relatives you would never ordinarily put in a room together and the sparks will fly. I don’t mean the good kind. Take time to shut your eyes for a while. One of my mum’s traditions was to send us all to our rooms for an hour or so after Christmas lunch. We didn’t have to sleep. We could read or play quietly, but if forced on us the idea of some quiet time in the busy day, and that’s something to be cherished if you don’t want the day to end in arguments.
 
9. Caffeine. Fuel your day with caffeine! It wakes you up and might just make you perky enough to avoid stabbing anyone!
 
10. GIN. I prefer mine with just tonic and a slice of lemon or lime, but Christmas is a time for adventure. Make a cocktail! Make several. I have a weak spot for one with cranberry in which makes it look as though I am spending the season drinking the blood of my enemies.
 
Do you have any top tips to share for surviving the Christmas season? 
Guest Post

Dating The IT Guy Blog Tour – Feel Good Books from Krysten Lindsay Hager

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           Book Cover     I’m one of those people who rereads books. It started when I was a kid and my parents would give me an allowance each month to buy books that I would basically speed read through. I truly didn’t understand how to pace myself and I’d be done with all my new books in a few days. My only option was to reread the books until the next month came along and I could get a few new books after doing my chores. This meant I read my favorite YA and middle grade books several times over and found new aspects to them each time. In rereading, I got a better handle on the book and I think it’s why I remember so many of my favorite books from my youth in such detail. I can recall what the characters wore and little details about their bedrooms or their makeup. For most people that’d be a useless skill, but now, as a YA writer, I can use those sensory details to help me write more vivid scenes for my readers. So here are some of my favorite books to read over and over again.

Good-bye, Glamour Girl by Erika Tamar. I read this for the first time the summer after 5th grade. It’s a coming of age story about a girl whose family escaped Europe during WWII and she is trying to fit in in America. Each time I read this one I feel like I’ve peeled back another layer to it as I might learn more about the experience of a girl in a new country or what it’s like to escape real world fears (WWII) by throwing yourself into the movie star culture of the time and thinking that glamour would erase the pain and fears. It’s a striking book and one that never fails to move me.

My Mother Was Never a Kid by Francine Pascal. I read this book as a preteen and it’s about a girl named Victoria who’s about to get grounded and she feels her mother doesn’t remember what it was like being a kid. On her way home on a train, she hits her head and when she wakes up, she’s gone back in time and meets a fun new girl, Cici, who’s wilder than she is and it turns out to be her mother as a teen. I love the book for it’s hilarious moments and because Victoria is a realistic teen with very genuine thoughts that weren’t always PG and perfect. She is flawed and fun and that was something different to see at the time.

Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume. I read this book for the first time on the first day of sixth grade. I was so anxious and this book was my escape. It’s about three very distinct characters who are also starting a new year of school and I loved reading about the insecurities they had. That book helped me escape from my own anxious preteen life into a safer place where my own worries could be put on the shelf.

Reading is an amazing way to get you out of your own world to a place of escape. I still find rereading my old favorites is a great way to relax.birdAbout Dating The IT Guy

 Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator’s son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon’s world and it doesn’t help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren seems determined to get back into his life along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you’re dating the it guy.

 

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Thanks to Jenny from Jenny In Neverland for arranging this blog tour. Catch more content from KLH over the weekend.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Eye Of The North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Extract:

None of this made any sense to Emmeline, but somehow, the way Pale Face said the word creature, she knew it had to take a capital letter. Every muscle in her body tensed as sh tried to ask a question that she felt, on the whole, she’d rather not know the answer to.

‘What Creature?’ she whispered.

‘What Creature, indeed?’ replied Pale Face.

(The Eye Of the North by Sinéad O’Hart. P89.)

birdSynopsis

Emmeline’s parents have tried to kill her in the past. She is certain of it. They may be eminent scientists, but life with them is a total hazard. Now they have disappeared. Emmeline receives a ship ticket, and instructions to meet her new guardian in Paris. On board the ship she befriends Thing, who stows away on ships and calls them home.

When Dr Bauer kidnaps Emmeline, she learns that her parents are more than scientists. They are part of a secret organisation, and they know all about the mythical creatures hidden in this world. Creatures like the Kraken. One drop of its blood grants the drinker immortal life. Imagine what Dr Bauer could do with immortality, and the Kraken under his control.

He’s not the only one chasing the Kraken. While various parties scheme and plot to awaken it, Emmeline, Thing and the mysterious Order of the White Flower work to stop them. Who knows what will happen if the Kraken awakes?

birdReview:

Airships, secret societies and mythical beasts combine to make a thrilling adventure. My favourite part of this story was the mythical beasts. It is no secret that I like magic and animals, especially in Middle Grade novels, but what I liked particularly here was the significance of the mythical animals in this world. It is impossible to talk about this in huge depth without any spoilers, but the ending left me hoping this would play a huge part in any sequels. If you liked Ned’s Circus Of Marvel’s you will love this. There are magical creatures in this world and they could cause a whole lot more trouble than most people realise.

 

O’Hart creates some vivid characters – her description of the Northwitch was so good I felt I was standing in front of her. My favourite character was Thing. He’s so happy-go-lucky, but memories of his past resurface and challenge his perception of himself. I did hope to learn more about Thing’s past. Perhaps knowing where and who is irrelevant to the story, or perhaps we will learn more in further novels.

 

Sometimes there is more than one perspective. When this combined with a lot of action, I would have liked to follow one character. My advice is roll with it – the reason I wanted to stick with the characters is their storylines were gripping, switching to another character’s narration keeps you in suspense.

 

The ending is cleverly designed to allow for more adventures without making a sequel necessary to book one. This is a complete adventure. Sinead O’Hart clearly has a head full of ideas and I can’t wait to see what else she creates. If you’re looking for a fast-paced wintery adventure, look no further.

Chat · Guest Post

Chocolate Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan Author Guest Post

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Chris Callaghan is the author of The Great Chocoplot. If you liked the sweets in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory you’ll love this. You’ll crave a Blocka Chokka bar as you follow Jelly on her quest to stop the Chocopocalypse. Part adventure, part hilarious satire on modern life, The Great Chocoplot is a fantastic read for Middle Grade readers and big kids alike. Read my review here. 

Chris has written about his memories of childhood selection boxes, and I am so pleased to welcome him for the 14th Day of Blogmas. Huge thanks for the wonderful post. bird

Selection Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan. 

The 1970s are where my childhood Christmas memories flutter around my head like the snow falling in Bedford Falls. But it isn’t all memories of Morecambe and Wise, fights over the double edition of the Radio Times, or Boney M having a ‘New Entry’ into the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops – some of my memories are of the classic selection box.

Gchriscchocolateboxeso into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you’ll find all manner of chocolate and sweetie delights, packaged in alluring festive trimmings. There will be the occasional box containing a few assorted treats but these, in my opinion, are not quite the same as the traditional selection box of my childhood.

 

I remember that they were a fairly standard present. Usually there to bulk-up a pile of other wrapped presents to enhance the ‘wow factor’ of that 5am entrance into the living room. Also, often handed out by next door neighbours or Auntie’s you hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Even before it was unwrapped you knew exactly what is was, with its distinctive flat, rectangular shape and gentle weight – but of course you had to pretend!

“Ooo, I wonder what it is?” we lied. Still maybe clinging to the hope that it was a Scalextric Set or an Airfix Millennium Falcon. But no, it was a few bars of chocolate and some sweets.

“Thanks, Auntie. That’s brilliant!” we lied again. (I sound a bit ungrateful, don’t I! But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of greed in Christmas – just embrace it!)

 

But once we’d got bored with our proper toys (I’m sounding like a brat again), it was the pile of selection boxes that drew our attention. The first game upon opening would be refitting the treat, which had fallen out due to the tradition gentle shake of the unopened present, into the corresponding compartment in the crinkly and surprisingly noisy plastic tray. Once this was achieved, the decision-making process began.

Do you keep your favourite bar until last or chomp it down right now? That is maybe a decision that a grown up would ponder for a while, but for a child on Christmas morning – it’s easy!! (Greed again)

 

texan_bar__16585I’d always choose the Texan Bar first. An impossibly chewy delight that would not only take forever to eat, but would also easily remove any stubbornly remaining baby teeth. The Texan Bar has since ceased production, probably on Health & Safety grounds!

Then there’s the obvious ones to go for: Galaxy, Mars Bar and a Flake (which would have to eaten while singing the song and pretending to be in the bath).

 

The selection boxes would always come with a game on the back, where you would have to cut out tiny counters from the box itself. Using paper scissors for this task was a nightmare, as they could barely cut paper, so had a hell of a job cutting card (often leaving sore red ring marks around our fingers and mangled bits of card as counters). The game itself could be completed in a few minutes, with minimal enjoyment and rarely got a repeat run.

 

The day after Boxing Day, which is a pretty dull enough day already, would mean our selection boxes had the stuff we really weren’t keen on. For me, this meant Marathon (yes, Marathon kids, not Snickers!) and Topic. Nuts in chocolate still sends shivers down my spine. Although, there was a certain fun in eating around the nasty crunchy bits and spitting them out into the convenient plastic tray area provided with the box. But then as New Year approached, the only sweets left were the ones that you would never buy and were only ever eaten because your own greed insisted that they had to be eaten. This was always the fruit version of Polos, for me. I’ve never been a fan of boiled sweets and even though the proper mint Polos were a regular favourite, these rock-hard luminous rings of sticky doom were not what I’d call a treat!

They were always stuck together by the world’s strongest super glue. It would take the rusty chisel in Dad’s tool box from the cupboard under the stairs to break them apart. Or, if you couldn’t wait, just treat it like one complete lolly stick. Being an impatient/greedy child, it was a huge effort to try and crunch on this multi coloured Polo lolly. The effort didn’t match the pleasure!

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I suppose a selection box could be something you might share. But as kids (and as grown-ups) do we really, really want to share? There might have been the odd thing that was swapped with my little sister, but only if I’d gain an advantage, like swapping a Twix for Curly Wurly. A Twix is, let’s face it, a glorified biscuit, while a Curly Wurly is a … well, it’s a Curly Wurly, isn’t it!!

But as it’s Christmas, I should end by saying that we should all share what we have, because that’s what the festive season is all about. (There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean it, but I’ve said it.)

So, enjoy yourselves, and if you have to share something, make sure it’s something you don’t really like. A tube of fruit Polos, for example.

 

Happy (Greedy) Christmas!

 

Do you have a favourite selection box? Which chocolate would you eat, and which would you trade? Let me know in the comments below.

Guest Post

Guest Post: Dream Christmas Cracker from Layla of Readable Life

laylabannerHello there! It’s Layla here from Readable Life with a guest post specially for blogmas! I had a brainstorm about the different ideas I could make a post about and settled on the idea that Louise gave me – dream cracker contents! Of course, this means that hypothetically I win all of the cracker pulls and keep all of these prizes!birdDream Cracker Contents

  1. Book voucher – Wouldn’t that be amazing? To pull a cracker and ta-dah! Book cropped-homepage_free_stuff_pod_resized.jpgvoucher! Especially if you’ve had your eye on a book and know EXACTLY what to spend it on.
  2. Chocolate buttons – Yes please! A shower of chocolate buttons to pop out of the cracker! So much better than a tiny sewing kit…
  3. Mini bath bombs – This would just be such a neat little idea! Mini Christmas themed bath bombs, all with different scents! That would be an absolute dream, plus imagine how pretty they’d look.
  4. Paper Santa hats – instead of paper crowns, how awesome would paper Santa hats be? With puffy paper pom-poms at the end with bells in them? I’m liking this idea more and more…
  5. Stickers – Any stickers. Christmassy, halloween, it doesn’t matter. Stickers are so much fun and it’d be nice to have a great big set of them just bursting out of the cracker!
Thank you Layla for your lovely answers. Check out Readable Life for more great content.