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 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

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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. 

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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.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Snail And The Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Review: The Snail And The Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

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A little snail who longs to see the world. A Whale who happens to be bound for a trip around the world. The pair make perfect partners and soon the snail is on the voyage of a lifetime. There is only one problem – the world is so vast and the mountains so high. The snail feels impossibly small. 

The Snail And The Whale is among my favourite of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture-books. Possibly my very favourite. It is coming to television this Christmas and I can’t wait to see it on-screen. 

What makes it so fantastic? In my opinion there are two things – the snail and the rhythm of the words. 

Julia Donaldson is one of the most incredible storytellers working today. Every aspiring writer should read her books because, in very few words, she demonstrates a wealth of knowledge. I appreciate that this isn’t why everybody buys the book – and excuse me if I am going off on a tangent – but whether you are buying the books to study them or to read to a very small child, there is one thing I am certain of – a well-crafted story stands the test of time. 

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The snail is a brilliant character. She wants to see the world desperately. She has a huge ambition. She also has a character flaw that gets in her way. The snail is certain that she is small and insignificant. Initially, it stops her from getting the most out of her trip. It is impossible not to root for this tiny character, whose journey demonstrates to the youngest of readers that characters must come back changed from their experiences. From the word go we want to know whether or not she will come back feeling bigger inside. 

The story also has a wonderful rhythm. In this book of all of Donaldson’s work – and it stands out among every picture book in print today – the words just flow. They sing and dance and fly free on the page and in the reader’s mouth. How can anybody not enjoy reading this story aloud? How can anybody read it and not subsequently find the chorus – the words repeated most often throughout the book – stuck in their minds? 

Scheffler’s illustrations are iconic but I look forward to seeing the story animated. These films have become a staple part of Christmas over the past decade and I wish you all fun and laughter as you watch the Snail and the Whale embark on their voyage. 

 

Thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of The Snail And The Whale. 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: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! 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.

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