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Christmas Round Up

It’s nearly Christmas. Bring out the bells and lights, decorate the tree. Here are some new Christmas-themed book delights to wrap up for the big day. Click on the book title for a link to buy. Click here for my non-Christmas themed holiday gift selection.

queen-present

A red and green foiled cover with a host of elves is a magical way to start the Christmas season. Steve Antony’s The Queen’s Present, complete with the Queen in Santa’s sleigh on the front cover, is a magical delight of a book. Familiarly set out as the other books in the series, this one traverses the world as the Queen seeks presents for the little princes and princess. Flying through Paris, Pisa, Egypt, Japan and New York to name but a few, the book is illustrated with thousands of elves carrying presents across famous landmarks. The colour palette is restricted to Christmassy green and red, with Steve Antony’s famous massively populated spreads showing characters from previous books, and elves up to all sorts of mischief. Of course, the moral of the story is that time with family members is the biggest present of all. But this book would bring a big smile too! Fabulous Christmas entertainment.

santa-magic-key

For those worried that Santa won’t visit them because they don’t have a chimney, Little Tiger Press have come up with the perfect solution. Santa’s Magic Key by Emi Ordas and Stephanie Stansbie is a book in a box complete with golden key (a fairly sturdy piece, no plastic rubbish here). A cute story book inside explains the significance of the magic key, enabling Santa to visit even when there’s no clear access – this is one to gift to the children before Christmas Day.

nightmare-before-xmas

If you associate Christmas with watching films, then this precursor to the film might be for you. The Nightmare Before Christmas, written and illustrated by the famous Tim Burton is a brilliant accompaniment for all fans of the film, and newbies too. Containing exclusive original sketches, this is for those who want a bit of a fright with their Christmas pudding. Macabre and witty, don’t miss out.

blue-penguinonce-upon-a-northern

More gentle, and more whimsical is Blue Penguin by Petr Horacek. A beautiful tale about friendship and finding your own voice, Petr’s illustrations linger in the imagination, evoking an icy blue and green wonderland of the South Pole. The children adored this tale of belonging, which evokes strong emotions through its enchanting illustrations. The tone is one of muted sadness, a kind of dream landscape that has a happy ending but will leave the reader thinking. Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E Pendziwol and Isabelle Arsenault is a poetic lullaby, a paean to the land of wild animals, snowfall, and the northern lights. Another one in which the illustrations evoke a certain sadness or stillness, the beauty of wintry nature and the feeling of being lulled softly to sleep in a warm bed. Sensational use of language, and stunning use of illustration.

cat-who-ate-christmas

A totally different feel with The Cat Who Ate Christmas by Lil Chase and Thomas Docherty, this is a book for newly independent readers, based on a real naughty kitten. A charming story, with a fun family and a mischievous cat called Jingles, this chapter book is packed with large exquisite two-tone illustrations showing the wonderful family atmosphere at Christmas time (even if the cat makes it a little haphazard). It’s good to see diversity represented in this family, and a host of activities at the end of the book, including crafts, cooking, facts and jokes. Top choice for this age group. 5+ years.

mistletoe-and-murder

I’ve mentioned her before, but Robin Stevens definitely has the magic touch. Her Murder Most Unladylike Series (think Enid Blyton crossed with Agatha Christie) keeps getting better and better, and this Christmas themed title is no exception. Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens sets detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong a new mystery but also a deadline – when a brutal accident occurs two days before Christmas, the detectives suspect murder, but they must solve the crime before Christmas morning. Set in a beautiful snowy Cambridge, with tales of sumptuous teas, ornate buildings, and some roof climbing, this is pure joy. Hazel Wong’s narrative is emotionally astute and easy to read. Stevens manages to add her usual twists and turns, and her effortless mentions of food (this book makes you long for mince pies as well as bunbreaks). She also incorporates a darker side in this title when she touches on what it’s like to feel like an outsider in British society. With lashings of boy crushes, a hint of feminism, and perfectly exquisite 1930’s student language, this is one to be savoured with an extra helping of Christmas cake.

Check out my books of the week in November and December for other wintry reads, including The Christmasaurus and to come at the weekend, a rather special book called Winter Magic.

 

 

 

Book of the Week

Danny McGee Drinks the Sea by Andy Stanton, illustrated by Neal Layton

danny-mcgee

Gleefully funny, this new picture book will send children squealing with delight as they take in an irrepressible protagonist and his bumptious audacity. Penned by Mr Gum author Andy Stanton, who reveals that he set out to “irreparably scramble the brains of very tiny children”, and teamed with multi-award winning illustrator Neal Layton, this was bound to be a successful pairing.

Egged on by his sister, the pair of them looking naughty from the first page (with their scribbly curly hair and delightful eye for speed as they race down the hill towards the beach), Danny McGee bets his sister that he can drink the whole sea. For who wouldn’t want to – when it lies on the page, glittering and sparkling, an irresistible blue. With an impossibly long straw, that’s exactly what he does. And then he proceeds to swallow everything else in sight. With a nod to There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Danny’s preposterous swallowing is accompanied by his bragging brash stance, and an absurdity in the things he swallows.

The story is told in continuing rhyming couplets, all with the same rhyme (“ee”) giving Stanton a restrictiveness in rhyme to push the sense to a ludicrous degree:

“and he swallowed a bee
and he swallowed a cat who was drinking some tea”

An excitable energy flows through the book, as Danny swallows more and more, including the author, who is writing the book from inside Danny McGee’s stomach apparently. But what enhances this further is the cleverness of the imagery. Cut out photographs of real objects have been placed on top of illustrations, so that Andy Stanton does indeed appear to be inside the book.

On other pages, this works even harder – the straw is real – held aloft by cartoon Franny McGee, and when Danny swallows London, real Big Ben and the Crown Jewels nestle beside scribbly cartoon illustrations of chimney sweeps a la Mary Poppins. Real chips jostle inside a cartoon drawing of the newspaper encasing them. The style to make the illustrations look scribbled and fast is actually stylised and difficult to do.

But above all, it is the anarchic mischievousness of Danny that gives the book its zest. He swallows everything – the whole world and then brags about it.

However, all jokesters get their comeuppance in kids’ books. And as I keep telling the children – beware of your siblings. They know you better than anyone!

You can buy a copy here.