Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.
Santa’s work doesn’t all happen in a single night. Long before he sets out on Christmas Eve he touches up the paintwork on his sleigh and checks the presents off on his modern, new-fangled Techno-Pad. With all this gadgetry to help him do the job, what could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, it turns out. When the pad drops from the sky and the screen goes blank, Santa doesn’t have a clue how to get it working again. He does what any self-respecting adult does during such a crisis – he pokes the screen several times and then accepts the help of a young person.
Jasmin knows exactly what she is doing and Santa rewards her with an early present. The trouble is, it leaves him nothing to deliver for Jasmin to open on Christmas day. Luckily Jasmin is two steps ahead as always …
A witty story that will gain laughs from children raised with smart technology at their fingertips.
Given that adults design the stuff, it is strange how, whether it is GameBoys in the 1990s or laptops in the noughties, or the latest smart technology today, children are, as a whole, always more fluent in the use of electronic gadgets. It helps, of course, when they have never known a world without them – so children born today learn to navigate their way around apps at the same time as learning the alphabet. Even so, I reckon this book will gain plenty of laughs over Christmas as adults hand their new gifts over to nearby young people for configuring.
This story of new-fangled things is illustrated with retro-style pictures. This contrast works beautifully because it hints at the idea that Santa himself has been around … you know … for quite some time. It suggests a nostalgia for days of earlier technology – except, of course, that this was revolutionary in its era.
A new take on the Christmas Eve delivery story just perfect for anyone who loves their technology.
Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Santa’s High-Tech Christmas. Opinions my own.
Review: Last Stop On The Reindeer Express by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Mia wants to see Daddy this Christmas, but he works far away in the North Pole. When Mia goes to post a card, she finds a magic post box which takes her to the Reindeer Express and all the way to the North Pole. A story about family love – families together and families apart.
The themes make this a good read for children whose loved ones are away at Christmas -either on the day itself or during the build-up. The message gently reassures the reader that their loved ones think about them even when they can’t be together.
The design is so beautiful that reading the book is as magical as riding a reindeer to the North Pole. Peek through the post box, lift flaps and doors and peek through the papercut trees to the page beyond.
I love the colour-palette – the muted colours and geometric patterns produce an effect which is as cosy as a patchwork quilt. The scenes alternate between snowy mountains, Christmas street markets and snug interiors. There is a hygge-like vibe about the book which makes it an attractive read on dark winter nights. A map at the back adds to this with pictures of arctic animals, reindeer and warm campsites.
A lovely read for young children and a book which is so beautifully festive it would appeal to the young-at-heart. This is a real snuggle-up-and-share story with just enough magic to build excitement ahead of the big day itself.
Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of Last Stop On The Reindeer Express. Opinions my own.
Where’s Mrs Polar Bear? Where’s Santa Claus? Lift the felt-flaps and find all of our festive friends. A hide-and-seek book perfect for sharing with the very tiniest of readers.
Christmas with a tiny baby must be hectic and wonderful. Everyone is enthusiastic to introduce the concept of Christmas, even when the child is too young to fully understand. This book would be a lovely starting-point – introduce the familiar festive characters while the tiny-tot enjoys the tactile flaps and engaging pictures.
The felt flaps are a brilliant idea. They are attractive for tiny hints to stroke and grab at and are easier to lift than traditional cardboard flaps. Poking or pushing the flaps from almost any angle leads to movement. This would be a brilliant way of teaching babies and tiny-tots how to engage with lift-the-flap books.
The illustrations are bright and bold with lots of colour-blocking and geometric design. They will hold the attention of babies too young to take interest in detailed pictures. At the same time, they are attractive to have on the bookshelves. There is a series of similar books and they would look very cute together.
With its baby-proof flaps and shiny mirror, this is a great option for the youngest people on your shopping list.
Thanks to Nosy Crow books for my copy of Where’s Santa Claus? Opinions my own.
Review: How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith
Christmas is coming everywhere, but not for Winston. As the world goes mad with music and bright lights and shopping-fever, Winston can only watch from his place at the side of the street. Then, when a little boy’s letter to Father Christmas goes missing, Winston takes it upon himself to see the letter all the way to The North Pole.
Told in 24 sections – one a day for every day of advent – and accompanied by Christmas activities, games and trivia, How Winston Delivered Christmas will leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Take one lonely boy, a letter to Father Christmas and an adventurous mouse and you have a new Christmas classic. Winston’s adventures take him into doll’s houses and travel agents, department stores and nativity-scenes as he works out how to deliver the letter to the North Pole. Just flicking through the book will make you nostalgic. Every thing you imagine when you picture the ideal Christmas is here. Paper chains and mince-pies and brass bands.
I love the book’s retro-feel, especially the activity pages which look so like the pieces of paper you find in crackers. While the book could easily be read alone, this would be the perfect one to share. Five minutes of story and a bit of fun time. If you’re buying this for a child, maybe look ahead through the book and get some of the bits and pieces together so you can try the activities. Imagine if those craft supplies or baking ingredients were wrapped in numbered boxes. It could add an extra dimension if your child had to guess what they were for ahead of reading the book.
From the front cover through to the final page, this book captures the warmth of Christmas. It also offers us a reminder that for every person having a good time, there is someone else going without basic needs. This message isn’t hammered in, but just wanting to see Winston get the happy ending he deserves enables readers to think further and understand that there are people in real-life who need shelter and clothing and food too.
I will be taking this book out year after year. Advent books have been seen before, but this one is a favourite. A strong story, magical illustrations and all the ingredients of a Happy Christmas. What more could you ask for?
Thanks to Clare Hall-Craggs and Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of How Winston Delivered Christmas. Opinions my own.
Review: Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree by Axel Scheffler
Pip and Posy are decorating their Christmas Tree. First the biscuits disappear, then the chocolate bells, and then the candy canes. Posy begins to have her suspicions about where they have gone when Pip is hit with a stomach ache. Can the pair find a solution which won’t cause so much temptation?
A cute and highly relatable story about excess at Christmas. We’re all guilty of it. Maybe we’ve never eaten as many decorations at Posy, but many of us have fallen into the trap of over-indulgence. For tiny children, this can be a big learning experience. Which child wouldn’t like to choose how many sweets they eat for themselves?
Reading this ahead of Christmas would be a lovely way to remember that a moment’s pleasure can come with a cost.
I love the format and the big, bold illustrations. Axel Scheffler is a star of children’s illustration and his style is immediately recognisable. Pip and Posy are gentle, everyday characters perfect for the pre-school and early years market. The book has paper pages, but its cover is soft and chunky – perfect for smaller hands.
The story introduces activities which would be fun to try out after reading – from making biscuit decorations to paper chains and lanterns, and playing in a cardboard box like Pip does on the final page.
A charming and festive story which will get laughs of recognition from young readers and their big people.
Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Pip And Posy: The Christmas Tree. Opinions my own.
What is the Christmas shake-up Q&A? Basically, it is a little game I devised where participants mix things from different books to create a festive situation. So clothes from three books to make a party outfit or objects from one book gifted to a character from another.
Today’s answers come from Cora from Tea Party Princess.
Cora is one of those lovely people who cheers everyone on. She’s also a brilliant person to consult on creative projects – from writing to blogging, her advice always improves my work.
I adore Cora’s blog. It mixes all things bookish with lifestyle content, something which I think book bloggers generally could be more open to. This Christmas, she has written fantasy shopping lists and to-do posts and book and film reviews.
Thanks to Cora for your time.
Gift an object from book to a character from another and explain why. I would give Cassandra from I Capture the Castle a One Line a Day five year journal, so that every day she could write something new and watch how she changes from year to year.
You’re hosting a Christmas party – pick your fictional guests and explain why you put them together.
I’d keep it intimate, inviting only a few, and we’d drink cocktails and just talk about anything and everything. I think they’d all have some stories and despite being so different, and from different times and worlds, I think they’d get on famously. Abi from Gilded Cage by Vic James
Hadley from Fashionistas by Sarra Manning
Daisy from Royals by Rachel Hawkins
Mary from Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
Sasha from Floored
If you could try a Christmas tradition from any story, what would it be?
While not a tradition, I’d love to try Kayla’s Christmas when she first visits Snow Crystal in Sleigh Bells In The Snow by Sarah Morgan. Staying in a cabin in the woods, with a hot tub on deck and starry skies above? It sounds heavenly.
Pick the setting from one book and a celebration from another. Why would you host that celebration in that setting?
I’d take the private club from Royals by Rachel Hawkins, and bring the characters from The Fallen Children by David Owen there. Mostly because they deserve a freaking break, somewhere to be themselves and not be afraid of what other people would do to them.
If you could wish for resolutions from three books for 2019, what would they be?
I can’t think of resolutions from books, but these are my three inspired by books:
Be there when people need it, inspired by Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Learn more about dinosaurs, inspired by The Extinction Trials by SM Wilson
Speak out against sexism, inspired by The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
Make up a Christmas ball outfit with clothes and accessories from different books.
Sorrow’s dress from A State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, Lexi’s shoes from Clean by Juno Dawson, Eelyn’s hair style from Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young, Feyre’s crown from A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maa. I would be a dressed like a princess for a day.
Review: Grandpa Christmas by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field
Mia’s all grown up and she has a family of her own, but every year at Christmas she takes out the letter her grandfather wrote when she was a little girl. Grandpa had one big wish for his little grandchild – that she would love the earth and learn to respect it. That she would inherit a world of clean air and water. A world where people take only what they need, a world where no-one ever goes hungry again and where animals have nothing to fear from humans.
It’s quite a big wish but every year Mia and her family remember Grandpa and his letter.
A gentle and touching narrative about caring for our planet, which captures the love we feel at Christmas towards people who are no longer with us.
Mia remembers the time she and her grandfather spent together in the garden, planting seeds and digging for words and looking at frogs. This gentle and loving introduction shows the reminds the reader the ways in which they may have experienced the joys of nature. This is a clever way to make the environmental narrative accessible. It may be a difficult subject but it relevant to everyone – even the smallest child.
This section also shows us the relationship Mia held with her Grandpa. They spent time together when she was young. One of the most poignant parts of Christmas is the feeling that some of our loved ones are missing. Nothing brings that loss back like a missing Christmas card. This story gently reminds us that, although people are gone, we may have messages that they gave us in life. Mia’s routine of reading Grandpa’s letter to her children shows us that, although grief never goes, we find ways to keep those people close to our hearts.
Jim Field’s illustrations capture the warm memories, big thoughts and poignant emotions Mia experiences as she reads Grandpa’s letter. Seeing the contrast between the environmental damage and Grandpa’s dream world helps us understand exactly what we’re doing – and how different it could be. I love the landscapes. Every leaf and every blade of grass is full of life and movement.
Certainly one which will make older readers emotional. It moved me to tears as swiftly as the end of The Snowman. I think it is important to acknowledge Christmas as a time of reflection and change, and this picture book does it so beautifully it deserves to be a classic read by many generations.
Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of Grandpa Christmas. Opinions my own.
Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.
The Missing Barbegazi is one of my middle-grade hits of 2018. It is the story of a friendship between a girl and a mythical, fairylike creature which lives in the mountains. The story is about family, friendship and trust and it is set in the days shortly after Christmas. If you are looking for a magical story to read in the build-up to Christmas, I can’t reccomend this enough.
I was delighted when author HS Norup agreed to answer some questions about her work, about the snowy landscape which inspired her setting and about fairytales in general. It is a pleasure to share her answers. Thank you Helle for your time.
Q: Barbegazi are mythical creatures who come out at first snowfall but are rarely sighted by humans. Did you want to write about Barbegazi, or did these creatures fit into your story?
A: When I began writing THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. And everything about them fit perfectly into the story.
Q: Aside from the Barbegazi, do you have any favourite stories set in snowy landscapes? What is it you love about these stories?
A: Snow is magical! I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. In a novel, the dangers of snow and cold weather immediately raises the stakes. A landscape covered in snow can become a character in its own right and influence the story through the opposition or help it gives the protagonist, as is the case in THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Other favourite stories that are set in the snow includes: C.S. Lewis’s THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS, Sinéad O’Hart’s THE EYE OF THE NORTH, Vashti Hardy’s BRIGHTSTORM, Piers Torday’s THERE MAY BE A CASTLE, and Katherine Rundell’s THE WOLF WILDER.
Q: Mountains play a huge part in your story. Why did you choose this setting?
A: I love the mountains and find them immensely fascinating—perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. From afar, the mountains present this beautiful, serene panorama, but up close they are wild and unforgiving. Add snow, and the mountains become both more beautiful and more dangerous. I have a deep respect for these dangers, especially avalanches, and they played a role in the story even before I discovered the avalanche-surfing barbegazi.
Q: You write about a world which is very like ours, except for the magical creatures who live in the mountains. What drew you to magical realism and how do you think fantasy elements help us to tell a story?
A: I have always loved reading magical realism and low fantasy stories. The idea that there might be magical or otherworldly creatures around us is both enticing and scary. I can’t go for a walk in the forest without secretly looking for fairies and I’m still afraid of the dark—my imagination often runs wild. I think fantasy elements can help us create story worlds that are fresh and interesting. At the same time, the presence of fantasy elements signals to the reader that this is a pretend world, which they can safely explore along with the protagonist.
Q: Family plays a huge part in The Missing Barbegazi. Tell us a little about how the two main characters fit into their families.
A: Tessa and Gawion are tweens (although Gawion is 154 years old) and both are part of loving families, but with very different family structures. Tessa’s parents are divorced, but she and her mum lives in the same house as her grandmother (and until recently her grandfather) and near other relatives, so she has a wide family network around her. Gawion’s family lives in complete isolations, far from other barbegazi, so they are a very close-knit family, and Gawion’s twin sister is his only friend. It’s important for the plot that they are isolated, but it’s also a situation I know well and wanted to describe. Whenever we, as a family, have moved to a new country, we have experienced 6-12 months of being each other’s only friends, and, since we left Denmark a long time ago, we have not had any family network to depend on. All family structures have positive and negative sides, and it’s important to show diversity without judgement in children’s fiction.
Q: Your story is set in the days after Christmas – the days when the presents have been unwrapped and the crackers have been pulled. Was there a reason you set your story after Christmas, and not during the festivities?
A: There are a couple of reasons I didn’t include the Christmas festivities, but the main reason is that it would have distracted from the story I wanted to tell. Tessa’s grandfather died shortly before Christmas, and the family is grieving, so I can’t imagine their Christmas was a jolly affair. Also, for many of the locals in a skiing resort, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, is the busiest week of the whole year. Tessa’s mum and Uncle Harry were both working over Christmas, catering to the needs of guests instead of their own families, but I’m sure Aunt Annie took good care of Tessa, Felix and Oma.
Q: Fun: Favourite cracker joke? Best Christmas jumper?
A: We have neither Christmas cracker jokes nor jumpers in Denmark, so I can’t really answer these questions, but we have other fun traditions. We celebrate on Christmas Eve. For dessert we always have Risalamande, a kind of rice pudding with almond slivers and one whole almond. Whoever finds the whole almond receives a small gift, but the fun lies in hiding the almond if you have found it or pretending to have found it if you haven’t. After dinner and before opening presents, we all dance around the Christmas tree, singing first psalms then jolly songs, usually ending with the whole family chasing each other around the house.
Q: Which animal would you have on the front of a Christmas card?
A: Mountain goats! We sometimes see them in the snow, springing around the steepest mountain sides, defying gravity. They’re more interesting than reindeer and deserve to be on Christmas cards.
Many thanks to HS Norup for taking the time to answer my questions. The Missing Barbegazi is available from Pushkin Press.
Review: I’ll Love You Forever by Owen Hart and Sean Julian
Though seasons may turn,
bringing sights new and strange,
My love is the one thing,
that won’t ever change.
A polar bear guides a cub out of the den and across the landscape, from winter to spring and through the first year of life. All along, adult bear reassures the cub of unending love.
A gentle rhyme to share with the very smallest children.
Reading is about so much more than language acquisition. It is a bonding time, and books like this give children the space to ask very big questions. Will you always love me? Even when I’m grown up? As adults, we take these things for granted but children need the space to ask these questions.
Little bear gains confidence, exploring for himself and straying further from the adult but at the end of the book, the bears are cuddled back together. This gives the reader an important message – even when they spend time away from their loved ones, the bond is never broken.
The bears are not gendered or named as parent and child. This makes the book accessible to all sorts of family units. It would be a lovely book to gift to a new baby or to give to a child on the edge of a new milestone who is nervous about the changes.
This is also a lovely story for talking about seasons. Winter turns to spring, and then summer. Big polar bear introduces different features of the seasons – snowflakes, blossom, migratory birds and golden leaves indicate that the seasons are changing. The soft colour-pallette and gentle brush strokes match the tone of the rhyme. This is a safe landscape. A landscape ready to explore.
A warm and comforting narrative which will make a beautiful gift for small children. A must-have for any early bookshelf.
Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of I’ll Love You Forever. Opinions my own.
Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she stays in one place long enough to make friends, but that isn’t possible. Her house has chicken legs and her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides spirits between one world and the next.
Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga, but she rebels against this and sets out to change her destiny.
The House With Chicken Legs was one of my favourite titles this year. I loved the interpretation of Yaga (a character from Russian folklore) and the unflinching narrative about mortality. The characters are the sort that stick in your head, and I will return to their story over and over just to spend time in their company.
I am delighted to have Sophie Anderson here on my blog to talk about fairy tales, stars and Christmas traditions.
Do you have any favourite fairytales set in winter/snowy landscapes? What draws you to these stories?
Wintry landscapes glitter with magic and invoke a chilling feeling perfect for dark fairy tales. My favourite is the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. There are different versions, but most begin with a childless couple building a little girl out of snow. She comes to life and seeks out happiness at every opportunity, but sadly in most versions she melts at the end of the tale. As a child I used to find this heart-breaking, but over the years I have come to accept it as a message to live fully, as a short, full life is preferable to a long, empty one. One of my favourite books is an adult reimagining of this tale: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
Winter is a time when stories were traditionally told around the fire. What are your favourite storytelling traditions?
I love bedtime stories with my children. However busy our lives get, we always make time for stories at the end of the day. We each take turns reading a chapter of a book we like and because my children all have different tastes we usually have three or four quite different books on the go!
Both the Nativity Story and your story feature stars. What inspired you to write about stars?
Carl Sagan! I love his work. The idea of our souls returning to the stars after death came directly from one of his quotes: “We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
How might Marinka’s house be decorated if she was celebrating Christmas?
Holly and mistletoe would grow in great curls from the House’s roof and oranges studded with cloves would blossom from the beams. The scents of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and rum soaked fruit cake would plume into the air as Baba cooked up a sweet spiced feast. And skulls lit with candles would adorn every surface, throwing a warm light into all the dancing shadows.
Marinka learns and inherits lots of traditions from her Grandmother. Do you have any special Christmas traditions, or any you would love to try?
My grandmother served Rumtopf with ice cream every Christmas. Rumtopf is made by soaking seasonal fruits in a stoneware pot filled with rum, and because it takes months to make I’ve never got round to doing it. Perhaps 2019 will be the year I finally start filling my Rumtopf pot!
If you could receive one gift from a story, what would it be and why?
The wardrobe that leads to Narnia. I’d love to see if I’m brave enough to go through it!
A huge thanks to Sophie Anderson for your time.
What are your favourite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments below.