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.
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.
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…
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.
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.