Nixie, Wonky Winter Wonderland by Cas Lester, illustrated by Ali Pye
Not unlike The Worst Witch, Nixie is a fairy who doesn’t quite get it right. She has a wonky wand, and makes lots of mistakes, and has a habit of saying “Bumblebees’ Bottoms” when things go wrong. Which happens a lot.
However, her attitude is much feistier than The Worst Witch, although she is much more endearing than a character such as Horrid Henry. The book is aimed at the same audience – newly independent readers, and each book has plenty of vivacious illustrations to accompany the text.
In Wonky Winter Wonderland, the author and illustrator have had much fun playing with the idea of snow, snowball fights, sledging, and a lovely Midwinter Midnight Feast, with sumptuous descriptions of food and preparations. Nixie gets in to trouble, but redeems herself by the end of the day – she is, underneath all her sass, a very good friend, with excellent creativity.
There are some great touches in the Nixie book, the second of the series. The chapters are punctuated by illustrations of Nixie astride a clockface – the chapter’s clock telling the time and giving a narrative shove forwards. Perfect for the age group who can decipher the time as well as learning to read.
Cas Lester’s text is packed full with onomatopeias, things are forever fizzing, whizzing, zapping swooshing and vrooming, which sets quite a pace, and the words are picked out with a zippy typeface so that the story itself seems alive. Names too, sing off the page, for example Twist and Fidget – so that there’s a zing when you read it aloud, as well as easy characterisation – not too unlike Horrid Henry in fact.
Ali Pye’s illustrations match this zest, and are lively and characterful – there are some full page illustrations too, which are delightful. A great series, a great Christmas read. You can buy it here.
On a Snowy Night by Various
Sometimes at bedtime it’s nice to have a series of short stories to read rather than a full novel, especially for young readers coming to chapter books for the first time. This is a great collection of animal stories, with contributions from some fabulous authors, including Linda Chapman, Jeanne Willis, Holly Webb and Tracey Corderoy to name but a few.
The theme is winter nights, and the authors’ stories complement each other well. Starting with a lovely story told from the point of view of a young Arctic fox gaining bravery in the face of a blizzard, and learning to trust humans, to a herd of goats warmed by the fire from a friendly dragon, to a zebra who helps out Father Christmas when he’s a reindeer down, these are all gentle stories of young animals stepping up to challenges and showing kindness and generosity.
The Sparkle Party was a favourite – a hapless squirrel who tries his best to do something for his friends, but everything keeps going wrong – and also The Only Hoglet, who wants a warm cuddle but is a little too prickly – there is an ingenious idea in this story in which he rolls in winter berries, each sticking to his spikes so that he is softer (if a little messy).
All great concise stories, with an array of animals, and gentle narratives that are easy to follow and comforting on those snowy nights in front of the fire. Purchase it here from Waterstones.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas story by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Lisa Brown
For those families who celebrate Chanukah and Christmas, or have an awareness of both, this is a fun read – packaged this year with a hard red cover and gold embossing, so that it looks and feels gifty.
Lemony Snicket is a master of subversion, and here he has tackled a latke (with reminiscent scenes harking to the gingerbread man) who is on the run, and generally misunderstood.
The latke is born in a house unadorned with Christmas lights – presumably the house in which they celebrate Chanukah not Christmas. The latke screams from the moment it hits the hot oil, and runs away. Throughout the story, Lemony has rather fun ironic punches at the festivities, including explaining that this is a Christmas story “in which things tend to happen that would never occur in real life,” and including the character of the flashing Christmas lights who tells the latke that he is “basically a hash brown”.
It’s funny for grown ups and older children, particularly those who have perhaps been brought up in a country that celebrates Christmas when they themselves don’t. A dry wit, accompanied by simply drawn but very effective colour illustrations. A joy for those who like their festivities with a bit of tongue-in-cheekery. You can buy it here.