BOOKS WE’VE LOVED AT CHRISTMAS
As I wrote in my last post, for the last five or six years my children have decorated an old cardboard box and left it out every day of the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas Day to Epiphany) for the ‘Book Fairy’ to leave a book for them. It used to be a book to share but now they are older they receive a book each. These are often found in charity shops or are bought second-hand online but every year there a few new books that they really want to read or that the Book Fairy thinks they will especially love. This whole thing began as a way of ensuring that we got to give our children a pile of books for Christmas but without just adding to the pile of things which they had to unwrap on Christmas Day while spreading out some of the fun of Christmas over the whole season rather than trying to cram it all into one day.
Nowadays not so many of the books the Fairy brings are Christmas-themed but over the years we have built up a box of Christmas books which is lovely to get out every year, even though some of them are perhaps strictly-speaking starting to be a little young for them. There’s something timeless about Christmasy books, however old you are! Here are some of our favourite gifts from the Christmas Book Fairy Past:
- Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry, illustrated by John Lawrence. Possibly my elder daughter’s and my favourite, this is a longer picture book with plenty of text and beautiful illustrations. Mrs Maggie Mistletoe has invited some friends and family to spend Christmas with her and her children but she soon finds herself inundated with unexpected guests. Maggie makes them all welcome, finds a nook or cranny for them all and they all discover that it’s the more the merrier in Exeter Street. When we got ours after borrowing it from the library and wanting our own copy it was seemingly out of print and we have a second-hand copy but it’s thankfully now readily available.
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat. The Christmas Eve classic is available in all sorts of formats but we really love this one (now also available in a smaller, cheaper stocking-filler sized edition). The delicate silhouettes compliment the mystery of the poem and there is a fantastic pop-up at the end of the book.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (published in the UK as The Worst Kids in the World). This is a brilliantly funny but poignant book about how the town’s most loathed family of kids turn up and take-over the church’s nativity play. Narrated by the daughter of the pageant’s organiser the story tells how when the Herdman kids bag all the best parts everyone is convinced the play will be a disaster but how, in the end, it is something truly special. My children were given it on Christmas Day last year and I read the whole thing to them in one sitting (after eating a very large Christmas dinner with a fair bit of gin and red wine for which I think I am probably The Best Christmas Mum Ever!). I remember enjoying it when I was little but gave away my copy. Possibly like the original owner of our book, given to him by Mrs Schindler and Mrs Bruce who hoped he would ‘enjoy this book every Christmas’, I really regretted it and am glad to have been able to share it with my children.
- Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. Another one that has recently been republished (as Lucy and Tom at Christmas) and of which we own an older edition. Worryingly for me, it now seems enjoyably nostalgic to read this. Lucy and Tom get ready for Christmas by stirring the pudding (not buying one from the supermarket!), making cards and paperchains, putting up the crib and buying their presents. I love it that Dad gets ‘a rubber in the shape of a dog […] to take to his office’! Carol singers come to the door as Mum makes Chrismas biscuits and the Salvation Army band plays in their street. There is a very realistic and sensitive part of the book when ‘Tom gets very excited about his presents and rather cross. So he and Grandpa go for a walk together in the snow, just the two of them’. I can’t read the last page without getting a bit choked up. (Actually this happens to me a lot with Christmas books!)
- Christmas at Blackberry Farm by Jane Pilgrim. Another ancient book, this is cheaply available second-hand in its later spiral-bound and larger hardback editions. Farmer Mr Smiles, his wife Mrs Smiles and their smiley children Joy and Bob share their Christmas with all the animals on their farm. Blackberry Farm was a series with lots of familiar characters including Emily the Goat, Little Hazel Squirrel, George the Kitten, Ernest Owl and the Nibbles rabbit family. All the animals hang up their stocking, receive a lovely little present the next morning, enjoy a Christmas dinner in the barn (I am slightly concerned what they ate being that Henry the Pig was there and so pigs in blankets and turkey would seem crass; Henry’s large form obscures the view of the table in the illustration), have a post-prandial nap and then play games and sing carols round the tree until bedtime.
- The 12 Days of Christmas: a carol-and-count flap book by Tad Hills. The Twelve Days of Christmas carol with pigs. What’s not to love?
- My First Oxford Book of Christmas Poems compiled by John Foster. A fantastic selection of poems, divided into different parts of the Christmas season, with cheerful, colourful illustrations.
- The Story of Christmas by Jane Ray. This is one that you have to look our for and hope you find serendipitously as it can be very expensive second-hand. It is gorgeously illustrated as only Jane Ray can. We read this every Christmas Eve.
- Easier to get hold of is The Lion Classic Christmas Stories by Mary Joslin, illustrated by Jane Ray. It is a charming collection of stories including the Nativities according to Luke and Matthew, The Nutcracker, Baboushka, Saint Nicholas, The Fourth Wise Man and Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden with just beautiful illustrations.
- Crispin the Pig Who Had It All by Ted Dewan. Another stunningly illustrated book, this is a modern morality tale about a pig who is spoilt rotten by his distracted parents but whose mountains of the latest, most hi-tec toys leave him bored and frustrated. One Christmas he is given a gigantic box whose label reads: ‘Master Crispin, In this box you will find the only thing you do not have. It’s the very best thing in the whole wide world. S.’ The box is empty. The rest of the book tells how Crispin’s disappointing present helps him unlock his imagination and find real friends. Again, the last line is hard to read without crying a little bit.
- The Nativity Play by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. Each page of this book is instantly recognisable to anyone who has acted in a school nativity play or watched one, especially in the 1980s! Sam’s mum gets his shepherd costume ready: sticky tape and wool beard (‘it won’t stay on’) and ‘with enough stripy towels he’ll look just like the real thing’. The children put on their play watched by their admiring friends and family
- (‘”Lovely,” says Mrs Booth’ has become a family catchphrase). The wise men with the bath salts have to have the hall door opened for them by someone’s dad, the angels play their recorders, the narrator narrates too fast, Sam has to pop to the loo and nearly misses his big moment, and Joseph grins when he has to say his wife is having a baby. But the end of this one makes me cry, too! Also look out for the unChristmasy but funny The School Trip and The Sports Day by the same authors.
- Merry Christmas, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark (originally published as Just For You, Blue Kangaroo!). I will confess that I do find this book slightly annoying; every aspect of Lily’s Christmas celebrations, including those made possible by her parents, is ‘just for you, Blue Kangaroo’ because it’s his first Christmas with her. Nevermind the rest of the family! And her baby brother, who looks a bit like it’s his first Christmas as well! But I still like it because it does have brilliant illustrations (the Christmas tree also has some quirky decorations that remind me of ours) and the story ends with Blue Kangaroo finally finding something he can do just for Lily.
- The Nutcracker: A Magical Theatre Book by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Kristina Swarner. We have several picture books retelling the story of The Nutcracker but this is our favourite. The illustrations are glowing and there are some moving parts and cut-out frames to the pages. Plus, Geraldine McCaughrean can always be counted upon to tell a wonderful story.
- Merry Christmas: Children at Christmastime Around the World by Satomi Ichikawa. A lovely book which describes how Christmas is celebrated in many different countries. It includes some recipes, carols and delicate illustrations. We also love Rosey’s Winter: A Child’s Fireside Book by Elizabeth Laird and illustrated by Ichikawa.