It’s time for the annual tradition of a Christmas-themed children’s book gathering – the “annual tradition,” in this case, which means it happened last year, so why not yet this? year ? And we start with a seasonal offer from JK Rowling, nothing less, of which The christmas pig (Little, Brown, £ 20) sees a boy propelled from his miserable, mundane life into a dark, magical world. . .
But no this boy. That boy is Jack, whose beloved plush piggy toy DP, short for Dur Pig, is thrown out of the car window onto the freeway by his malicious stepsister, and appears to be gone for good. DP’s less beloved replacement, the Christmas Pig, becomes Jack’s guide to the land of the lost, a kind of afterlife for things that have gone astray, not just objects but abstract concepts such as hope and life. ‘ambition. The search for PD involves danger, hardship, and ultimately sacrifice, along with a cameo appearance of a certain cheerful and festive figure. Rowling’s unbridled imagination is a powerful force, and The christmas pig seems sure to become a perennial favorite.
There is also magic in Santa’s list (Scholastic, £ 6.99) by Kieran Crowley, in which exuberant siblings Aisling and Joe are put on Santa’s naughty list by their terrific babysitter Mrs Grough. In order to make sure they get their long-awaited Christmas presents, the couple enlist the help of school bully Victor, who decides the best option is to steal Santa’s beautiful list – that way, Santa won’t know who deserves and doesn’t deserve their Christmas Bonus.
The unintended consequence of this, however, is that he may not be able to deliver any gifts at all. The race is on to correct the situation, unaided by Grinch’s neighbor Mr. Grindle, who throws obstacles in the way of our heroes.
Crowley’s story is a lot of fun, as is Mel Taylor-Bessent’s. Christmas carols (Farshore, £ 7.99), about a family so loving Christmas that they celebrate it every day of the year; their rooms, for example, are permanently decorated and their meals are always linked to the Christmas period.
Nine-year-old Holly Carroll is as crazy about Christmas as her parents, so when they buy a house on aptly named Sleigh Ride Avenue, it’s like all of her Christmases have come at once. The move, however, sees her attending school for the first time, where she finds, to her dismay, that the rest of the world views Christmas as a specific occasion. Holly nonetheless remains determined to spread the good humor, whatever the date, and soon she wins teachers and classmates in her way.
Holly’s narration, embellished with messy propisms and coat rack neologisms, reflects her irrepressibly cheerful personality, and the book’s message – you shouldn’t change yourself to suit others – is as pleasantly positive as it is. It’s a very impressive first effort from Taylor-Bessent.
Now let’s move on to a plethora of picture books. Disasters strike Santa’s new sleigh (Faber & Faber, £ 6.99) by Caroline Crowe and Jess Pauwels: It’s Christmas Eve and Santa’s old combustion-engine sleigh has broken down. Fortunately, the smart elf Lizzie, the chief inventor of Santa Claus, comes up with an eco-friendly solution, namely a pedal-loaded electric sled – and if the sight of elves training on static, Peloton-style bikes, don’t make you smile, your heart must be two sizes too small.
Julia Donaldson’s Christmas pine (Alison Green Books, £ 12.99) started life as a commissioned poem to recognize Norway’s regular winter gift to the UK of a huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. Norwegian illustrator Victoria Sandoy provides atmospheric visuals to accompany Donaldson’s verse, which is still rhythmically recitable as ever.
Jon Agee’s Little Santa Claus (Scallywag Press, £ 12.99) is a witty origin story for Santa Claus – sort of “Santa Begins” – while Yuval Zommer’s The lights that dance in the night (Oxford University Press, £ 12.99) beautifully evokes the mystery and wonder of the Northern Lights.
There is some silly fun to be had in Jingle Smells (Bloomsbury, £ 6.99) by Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan. Here, the bad smell of Jingle the Skunk proves to be a blessing when Santa is taken captive by a gang of infamous gift thieves. Meanwhile, at Lucy Rowland and Katy Halford Elves don’t exist (Scholastique, £ 6.99), a boy sets out to refute the title claim, and his mission seems unsuccessful – although keen young eyes can spot an elf hiding on every spread.
Mouse and mole: there you go! (Graffeg, £ 12.99), the latest in Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew’s Mouse and Mole series, tells how the two cohabiting rodents build a snow mole (and a snow mouse), open their Advent calendar and bake tarts for Santa Claus. . It’s as sweet and uneventful as that, and all the more charming for it.
Finally, Nutcracker (Magic Cat Publishing, £ 20), by Lily McArdle and Bodil Jane, tells Tchaikovsky’s ballet in a colorful and elegant way. The addition of a built-in music box that plays the “Waltz of the Flowers” partly justifies the book’s retail price and also enhances its value as a special gift.
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