Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

Review: The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland by Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley.

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The Night Before Christmas, just as Santa is ready to set off in his sleigh, he receives a letter from the little Princess Of Hearts. She would like a Christmas present but her parents said no. Santa is her last hope. Ignoring warnings from his reindeer, Santa sets a course for Wonderland. 

It takes AGES to get to Wonderland by sleigh. (That’s why you need a rabbit hole). Still, Santa and his reindeer eventually arrive. The only trouble is they are greeted by utter mayhem. No stockings, no carrot, and a creepy semi-invisible cat that can pop up at will. Not to mention the Queen Of Hearts. She takes one look at Santa and issues an order for her guards to cut off his head. 

A chase ensues, in true Wonderland style. This is not only a witty take on The Night Before Christmas but it has truly thought about which story would be appropriate to tell if the rhyme was transferred over to Wonderland. It makes strong use of Lewis Carrol’s worldbuilding and characters to create something which Wonderland fans – and readers excited for Christmas – will love and enjoy. 

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This is high up among my Christmas picks of 2019. It has that quality which makes it lasting. This could be enjoyed again and again and, as well as being perfect for this time of year, has the additional draw of appealing to seasoned Wonderland fans. 

Kate Hindley’s style fits Wonderland to perfection. It has a touch of the strange and mysterious but it also finds the fun and friendly in Wonderland. This is especially important for the picture book market, and personally I think it is a more faithful interpretation of the original text than making Wonderland entirely scary. Yes, there’s all that stuff about chopping off heads, but what about the tea parties and races and neighbourhood friendly lizards?  

The illustrations are striking and will go down well with both children and adults. 

A return to a favourite setting combined with a super twist makes this a classic Christmas text. 

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of The Night Before Christmas In Wonderland. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Winnie The Pooh Titles.

Review: Winnie The Pooh Titles.

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Everyone loves Winnie-The-Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. The original titles are childhood staples and even those of us who haven’t read them know the characters from television and film adaptations. These two books, one stocking-sized and one larger, are perfect to share in the run-up to Christmas.

The Long Winter’s Sleep sees Pooh and his friends making everything snug and warm ahead of a winter hibernation. Rabbit is cosy in his burrow, and Piglet is safe in bed, but something outside is cracking with life. Luckily it turns out to be Christopher Robin toasting marshmallows around a fire and he has plenty to share with all of his friends.

In A Pudding For Christmas, Winnie-The-Pooh advises his friends that the most important thing to feeling warm and cosy during the Winter is food. The gang set about making a Christmas pudding, which they share around a log-fire.

The running theme of warmth and friendship makes these feel very much like Winnie-The-Pooh stories.

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Branded titles – books based on existing characters and worlds, whether they be cartoon characters, toys or classic characters like Winnie-The-Pooh – are a staple part of a young person’s reading diet. Recognising favourite characters is one way that young people choose their reading material. These books aren’t by A.A. Milne but they capture the charm and comfort of his original stories and provide a faithful representation of his characters and setting. 

Winnie The Pooh is, quite frankly, irresistible. With one book small enough to slip into a stocking and another perfect to wrap up and put under the tree, there is no need to choose which title to give this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK Ltd for sending the titles featured in this article for review. Opinions remain my own.

Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

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An elderly lady visits the park every day to remember her childhood. 

She remembers walking through the park with Nanny Clementine. She remembers the carousel and statues, and the bullies who would poke fun at her on her way home. Most of all she remembers Scruffle-Nut – the little squirrel with the stumpy tail. 

In her mind, the elderly lady is a little girl again. She’s coping with bullies of her own, so when she sees the other squirrels ganging up on one who looks more vulnerable, she makes a special point of feeding him. Every day she returns until winter drives the squirrels out of the cold. 

A nostalgic and beautiful story about childhood, bullying and time. 

The idea that we might be elderly is a strange one to young children, as is the idea that elderly people were once small. Understanding that our formative years go a large way to making us the person we are helps young readers to relate to the elder people around them. It also helps to understand that the elderly once experineced the same things we are going through now. Adults can, unintentionally, trivialise the everyday experiences of the young, so it is important for young readers to see that adults understand younger lives on some level. 

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My favourite part of this story was the girl’s bond with Scrufffle-Nut. The bonds we make with animals in childhood are important and teach us so much about life. By watching Scruffle-Nut hold his head up around the stronger squirrels, the protagonist learns new approaches to her own situation. 

The illustrations remind me a little of Raymond Briggs. Not in style so much as in tone. The faint colours of the landscape and buildings make them appear as if they have blown in from the remote past, while the girl herself, and her immediate concerns, are bolder and brighter.

This story is a winner because people of all ages will find something in it and it will grow with readers in the same way as books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Grandpa by John Burningham. A beautiful book to share over the holidays and certainly a story to treasure. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Scruffle-Nut. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

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Sunny the meerkat of Meerkat Mail fame is back on another globe-trotting adventure.

A magazine arrives at the meerkat burrow advertising the most perfect Christmas ever. It comes complete with a checklist of what is essential to day. Dissatisfied with his family plans, Sunny packs his case and sets out into the wide world.

This story follows a similar format to the original book, with Sunny sending cards home from the different places he visits, except that this time they are Christmas cards. Emily Gravett’s books are always stellar on design and detail and this is no exception. Every Christmas card is a pleasure to open and half the excitement is in seeing what kind of card Sunny will send next. There are cracker jokes littered around the pages (on those white and red slips which seem to be so universal). I love books like this where the main illustrations are complimented by a jigsaw puzzle of things to spot.

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As for the story, I can’t think of a better theme for 2019. Aren’t we all feeling a little mediocre? Social media has given us many good things but we have also fallen prey to measuring ourselves up to posed Instagram pictures and planned out blog posts. Never mind that it took over an hour to set up the photograph. Sometimes it feels like everyone around us has neater bookselves and more beautiful homes and the picture-perfect Christmas.

Sunny finds out that what makes Christmas perfect isn’t the decorations or wrapping paper.

This book is a joy, from Sunny’s Christmas jumper to the excitement of opening the little cards. A fitting follow-up to a popular book and a timely reminder that sometimes we have to look a little closer to home – at what matters to us – to find perfection.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s UK for my copy of Meerkat Christmas. Opinions my own.