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 · 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.

Blogmas 2018 · Guest Post

Guest Post: Blogger Charlotte Burns talks about her decision to get a dog for Christmas.

In the last of my blogger guest posts is Charlotte from Charlotte Somewhere, talking about her decision to get a dog for Christmas. 

Charlotte has kept us all hooked to Twitter this autumn with her ridiculously cute pictures, from the day-old puppies through to first visits and videos of dumpling-sized puppies toddling around their basket. It has also been interesting to hear how the decision to get a dog – sorry, Dexter, another dog – has given Charlotte’s family memories to share.  

I was delighted when Charlotte agreed to share her thoughts as part of my Blogmas. Thanks to Charlotte for your time and for keeping me up to date on the latest fluffy pictures. cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

A dog is not just for Christmas by Charlotte Burns

A Dog Is Not Just For Christmas…

But I’m getting one anyway. We’ve all seen the adverts at this time of year, urging people not to get a dog as a Christmas present without considering the consequences. The statistics telling us how many of these dogs end up in shelters when the initial excitement wears off.

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Dexter

I’m getting a puppy. He’s not going to be here by Christmas, but it will be soon after. I know what I’m in for: we already have a cocker spaniel who we adopted at 17 months old. Dexter. He’s a love. He changed our lives when he arrived, but now I don’t remember what it was like to be without him. We’re well prepared for life with a dog.

Recently a friend of ours had puppies (well, she didn’t, her dog did). They’re related to Dexter (his brother is the father and the friend also owns Dexter’s mum – are you still with me?) They were the cutest balls of fluff you ever did see. I wanted one. We’d never discussed getting another dog, but when I suggested it to Husband, he thought it was a good idea too. We did maths and talked about it, and did all the sensible things before settling on getting one.

Then we involved S. And, if you know anything at all about S, you’ll know that’s when the chaos started. We chose our puppy via a facetime call. Then S started to think about names. We had to veto Voldemort (“but mummy we can call him the Dark Lord for short”). We also vetoed Buckbeak. Eventually we narrowed the choice to two names we all liked (except for Dexter, who has zero interest in the puppy’s existence). And we let S chose.

He enrolled the assistance of a very carefully crafted Goblet of Dog Names which contained only one name. And he revealed it very dramatically over Sunday lunch but throwing the paper into the air and announcing…

‘THE DOG’S NAME IS GOING TO BE … NEVILLE.’

Here he is.

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Neville

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: HS Norup – author of The Missing Barbegazi.

Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.

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The moutains which inspired H S Norup’s writing 
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HS Norup 

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. 

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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.

Guest Post

Guest Post – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl

amybannerYou remember Amy from GoldenBooksGirl? Before she asked to take a cracker slot, she had agreed to write a Blogmas Guest Post! Amy has been as busy as Santa’s elves this year. She’s had her own Blogmas planned and in production since *July*. Amy has written about the fictional settings she would like to spend Christmas in. Which characters she would like to meet and which settings she wants to explore. It’s lovely to welcome her back. 

If we could climb into books, this is where Amy would spend Christmas – 

Harry Potter (JK Rowling)- whether with the Weasleys or at Hogwarts, I think I speak for every Harry Potter fan when I say a Wizarding World Christmas would be magical in more ways than one. The food sounds divine, I’m sure there’d be incredible gifts on offer (and I’d gladly accept my Weasley jumper) and the company would be exceptional.

With the Tanberry family (Cathy Cassidy – Chocolate Box Girls series ) – I love the Christmas in Marshmallow Skye; it’s so cosy. And I’d imagine there’d be lots of Chocolate Box goodies to go around (you have no idea how much I wish that business was real…). But even if there weren’t, I think the stockings and gifts and traditions are lovely.

At the Manners household (Geek Girl Series by Holly Smale)- I love Geek Girl, and seeing that I’ve never seen actual Christmas Day in that world, I really want to see their wacky traditions and the sorts of gifts they give! If Lion Boy made an appearance, all the better.

With the Love family (Ally’s World by Karen McCombie) – Ally’s World is a phenomenal series, and I’d love to meet the family full stop, so getting to do it at Christmas would be incredible. They’re madcap, funny and very close-knit, and have some super sweet Christmas traditions judging from Angels, Arguments and a Furry, Merry Christmas. Also, there’d be tons of animals around for cuddles, which is a Christmas essential if you ask me!

With the Beetle Boy cast (Beetle Boy series by MG Leonard) – I’m not sure why, but I feel like those characters together (with the exception of Lucretia Cutter, for obvious reasons!) would have a super fun Christmas day. Here’s hoping in book 3, we might get one…?

Nevermoor (The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend) – I loved the Christmas scenes in Nevermoor! I want to go and see the red/green stand off  and be part of such a special world on a special occasion. I really want to meet all the characters from the book too (especially my ultimate favourite Fenestra, but also Morrigan and her friends and Jupiter North)

Lundinor (Uncommoners Series by Jennifer Bell)- Lundinor, from Jennifer Bell’s Uncommoners series, is an exceptional world, and I’d so love to explore the Undermart at Christmas time. I wonder what uncommon goodies I’d find? (I’d like an adorable bell just like Scratch, to start off with…)

Chat · Q & A

Christmas Cracker Q&A – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl

The first thing I remember thinking about Harry Potter? I wish Christmas crackers were like that. I was – by happy luck – nine and three-quarters years old when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time. The plot had me hooked, but it was chocolate frogs and live mice in Christmas crackers which made me want to be part of JKR’s world. 

This Blogmas I will ask authors and book bloggers to design their dream Christmas Cracker. First up is Amy from GoldenBooksGirl. Amy is a new blogger this year. She has so much to say about children’s literature, and so much time for everyone that she’s taken to blogging like a … wizard to levitation. She’s also the blogger who makes me braver. From clicking request on Netgalley for the first time (oh yeah, but it was such a big deal back in June), to asking for real actual proof copies or emailing authors to ask if they will do an interview. Amy, without you the mouse button would still be hovering over ‘request’. 😀 

Anyways. Here’s Amy’s dream cracker:

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Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place? 

I am not a big fan of cracker jokes, unlike my uncle who takes great glee in reading every single one. 
This is one of his favourites: What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas Quacker! It’s also one I can bear, so I’d put that in.
 

What sort of hat would you wear?

I generally try to swap paper crown with the person who has the purple or pale pink one.
 

What would you hope to see inside?

The best thing I have ever gotten out of a cracker (which was from Dog’s Trust) were some really gorgeous magnets with dogs on them. 
 

 Which fictional character would you pull it with?

I am incredibly competitive and pride myself on never losing a cracker pull. If they lose I don’t care who they are, but I’d probably let Ade from Boy in the Tower win as he’s so brave and inspirational and lovely. Or Sam from Ways to Live Forever for similar reasons.

 

Check out GoldenBooksGirl 

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Check back on the 10th of December when 2018 debut author Sophie Anderson will answer the same questions!

Uncategorized

Letter to Santa – 11 things I want this Christmas

wishlistbannerIf I get all this, it will be a sign that I’ve been very good this year. My wishlist says a lot about who I am. Reading and writing are the most important things in my life. Everything else makes those an even nicer experience.

When my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas this year I said Moomin Bedding. I’ve wanted this for a year or two, but constantly forgotten it around birthdays and Christmas. The chocolate is sorted. We’re planning a family trip to Kennedy’s, and this being an important event we’ve marked it on the calendar. 

There are more books I want than I can possibly name. My family suggested I tell them a smaller number, to ensure I get the ones I really, really want. I chose the illustrated edition of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Tell Me A Dragon by Jackie Morris and Daemon Voices by Phillip Pullman. My sister also hinted that she’d bought me a picture book because she knows I like the illustrator. I have a sneaking suspicion I know which book, and am intrigued to find out whether I am right.

I’m off shopping – my family are so generous with present-buying that I owe them presents they actually want. In the meantime, here is my wishlist for Christmas 2017. 

 

 

What is on your Christmas wishlist? Have you sorted your pressie buying? Let me know in the comments below.