Under the Christmas Tree Part 5 – Festive boredom busters

For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials.  Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.

the-anti-boredom-christmas-bookThe Anti-Boredom Christmas Book by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett

The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required!  (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)

Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.

Bloomsbury Publishing December 2016

wonderful-world-colouring-bookWonderful World Colouring book by Alison Lester

For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.

wonderful-world-illo-spreadInside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation.  Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.

Allen & Unwin 2016

my-lovely-christmas-bookMy Lovely Christmas Book

While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.

There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2016

the-kids-survival-guideThe Kids’ Survival Guide – Avoiding ‘When I was young…’ and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran

I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.

Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big Sky Publishing October 2016

 

 

YA Books Christmas Books To Get You into the Festive Spirit

As December sneaks into view, many of us start thinking about Christmas. And what better way to get you int the Christmas spirit than to read some books with delightful scenes of holly jolly festivities?! Well an alternative way to get into the Christmas spirit would be to eat lots of festive food and sit on your Christmas tree…but I think books are a nice secondary option if you’ve exhausted those first two.

So let’s list some delightful Christmas-themed books to compliment your holiday reading!


9781442426719TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE

[buy]

This book isn’t strictly all about Christmas, but it does have several chapters that focus on it! And better yet: they focus on the food part of Christmas. We all know that’s the reason for the season. I particularly adore how Lara Jean and her sisters had an annual Christmas Cookie Bonanza, where they’d bake so many cookies of all different flavours. Warning: this book will make you  hungry. It’s also incredibly cute and heartwarming and has an adorable romance! It’s perfect light reading for the holiday season.


9781408845653HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

[buy]

Well of course I have to Harry Potter on the list, since almost all the books feature Christmas quite spectacularly! Who hasn’t quietly dreamed of a Christmas spent at Hogwarts in an ugly-Weasley sweater and eating all the delicious food the great hall has to offer?! Hush. I know you have. And don’t forget about the new illustrated Harry Potter books that have been recently released. Because you can never have too many editions.


9781760293826THE TWELVE DAYS OF DASH AND LILY

[buy]

It’s been 4 years since Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares came out, a Christmassy story which involved two teens falling in love while writing each other letters and dares and leaving them anonymously in a bookstore. Now they’re back! Although they’re not…as happy. Lily’s had a rough year and has lost her happiness for Christmas (which used to be her favourite time of year). Time to throw some shiny baubles in the air and find a way to make Lily smile again.


9781509840762WHAT LIGHT

[buy]

This is set on a Christmas Tree farm! It’s about Sierra who’s life is split in half since her family must leave their home and life each year to set up their Christmas Tree shop in another state. But this Christmas she meets a boy with a dubious past. The blurb promises “disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions” which is always fun and very promising for an exciting story.


9780062342409TINY PRETTY THINGS

[buy]

Again this book isn’t centred on Christmas things, but it is about ballet! And one of the important ballets they put on is the Nutcracker! That part of the book is set around the holiday season. Except don’t dive into here expecting mistletoe and candy canes. Ha, no. This is a cutthroat ballet school where three girls, Bette, Gigi and June, will do anything to rise to the top of their class. And I mean anything. It’s beautifully written and contains a complex and diverse cast of characters.

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 6 – Dim’s Christmas picks

Hold on to your paper hats. Here are some last minute cracking Christmas reads to cram into your kidlets’ stockings, a mere handful of my top picks this year. In no particular order:12 10 front cover

Fantasy

 PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? doesn’t set out to change the world but it does reinforce the magic of believing in all things Christmassy (insert cheeky wink). This action saturated little tale has all the ingredients of a tantalising Christmas mystery, if I do say so myself with sleigh loads of magical mayhem, weird smells, disappearing mail and an evil elf thrown in for good measure. Terrific fun for primary schoolers, by me!

Morris Publishing Australia October 2012

A Boy Called Christmas A Boy Called Christmas by the ineffable Matt Haig with illustrations by Chris Mould however may just save the world or at least the spirit of Christmas. Miika is a mouse who believes in cheese despite the fact he has never seen it. Isn’t that something? He is just one of the several seriously delectable characters in this enchanting Christmas-flavoured book. A Boy Called Christmas combines everything you thought you knA Boy Called Christmas illosew about Santa, mixes it with all the hopes you’ve ever had about Christmas and pats it altogether with facts you’d never dreamed about before. If there is one book you read to your children (or pets or grandparents or self) this holiday season, make sure it’s this one. Touted as an ‘evergreen, immortal Christmas classic’ A Boy Called Christmas will fill your heart with more warmth and wonderment than a jug of eggnog. Perhaps enjoy both together, at the same time. You can’t go wrong. I love everything about this book; the joy, the spirit, the illustrations right down to the sparkly snowy bits on the cover. Higher than highly recommended.

Allen & Unwin November 2015

Classic

The Nights before Christmas The Nights Before Christmas – 24 Classic Stories to Share is a pictorial advent-styled collection of short stories, poems, classic tales, and carols by the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson and more while, Tony Ross is responsible for page after page of vivid festive illustrations. Overflowing with merriment, sentiment, and fairies, there are plenty of fairies; this compilation is the penultimate way to countdown to Christmas sans sugar! I shared it with my nine-year-old last year and now we are giving it a second airing. She will not abide missing a day’s story or skipping ahead. The lure of what awaits for the next night is half the attraction. A bit like waiting for the man in red himself. Very very special.

Koala Books Scholastic Australia November 2014

The Hush Treasure BookAnother unreal collection and Christmas keepsake is The Hush Treasure Book. Readers can meander in and out of the stories, poems, and pictures of some of Australia’s most well-known and best-loved authors and illustrators whilst listening to the melodic tones of the accompanying CD. The picture book format of this assorted box of literary treasures renders it a collector’s must-have while making it utterly wonderful to share with your children. You can read Joy Lawn’s illuminating review of Hush, here. She made it through Judith Rossell’s incredible Maze Page contained within as did my ten-year-old. Not surprisingly, I did not. I am not a fan of mazes, but I am in love with this book.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Anthology

Rich and RareI touched on this anthology edited by Paul Collins a couple of months ago; you can revisit it, here. Rich and Rare deserves head of the table status as one of the most comprehensive collections of Australian short stories, poetry and artwork in recent times, and we do produce some cracking good ones. A sensational synergy of individuality so deftly and ably woven together into one fluid volume that it is pure pleasure to read. The likelihood of finding at least one or two of your favourite kids’ authors amongst this collection is above high, such is the calibre of Collins’ round up of talent. Deliciously diverse, thrilling, and thought-provoking Rich and Rare is capable of satisfying the fussiest of readers from 10 to 100 and as Collins suggests, ‘should be in every home.’

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

Australiana

Emo the EmuIt doesn’t really matter where the exact origins of the term ‘emo’ originated, what matters is this spanking new picture book by Tony Wilson and Lucia Masciullo. Both creators have captured the essence of emo in this picture book adventure, Emo the Emu. Emo is one moody, despondent little emu dude so full of mope that he is unable to enjoy his inner emu and Old Humpty Doo where he resides with his extended flightless family. Wilson’s lilting rhyming verse personifies the creatures of our Aussie landscapes precisely while focusingEmo illos spread on Emo’s utter gloom. Masciullo’s watercolour illustrations are ridiculously true to country and fun. Her rendition of lanky-fringed, angst-ridden Emo is hilariously spot-on (worthy of eliciting dozens of teenage eye-rolls). Thankfully, cool Kanga Katie lightens the mood and saves Emo from himself. This will make an awesome gift-with-a-difference for overseas family and friends or for those with a hankering to see more of our great land. A beaut exploration of friendship, emotions, travel, and the great Aussie outdoors. Put it on your list!

Scholastic Press November 2015

Australians Let Us B B Q!Need an extra dollop of Oz? Look no further than Australians, Let Us Barbecue! Yes, Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton have merged every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition into the tune of our Australian National Anthem, (one I am betting Aussie kids will instantly learn the words to!) I am throwing both thongs in the air for this one. Slap the accompanying CD on for a rousing recital and sing-along to the very recognisable soundtrack. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us across rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am almost on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

Oh there are stacks more, but investigate these first, then have a look through the Boomerang Kids Reading Guide 2015 / 2016 for more great gift ideas. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas haul containing 4 classic novels

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe book cover clothboundAs I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books. I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas. I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, here’s what I received (in alphabetical order by author surname):

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Somehow I didn’t read Robinson Crusoe as a young adult, and it’s one of those books that is always referred to in passing. As I approach my 40s, I thought it was time to pick up Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and this clothbound classic edition will make a wonderful addition to my bookshelf.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyFrankenstein Mary Shelley clothbound classic cover
I’ve read a few horror novels in my time as well as many science fiction books, but I’ve never read the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I love the story behind the book, in that Shelley wrote Frankenstein almost 100 years ago in 1817 at just 19 years of age. I’m really looking forward to reading this clothbound edition of Frankenstein this year (love the hearts on the cover) and discovering for myself the gothic and romantic elements within.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was an American author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, and is known for writing Grapes of Wrath (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940), Of Mice And Men, and East of Eden, and I haven’t read any of them.Pearl John Steinbeck book cover

For some reason I find this author intimidating so I’ve decided to read The Pearl (a novella of less than 100 pages) as a gentle introduction to his writing. Have you read any Steinbeck? What do you recommend?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The plot in Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray is known by many and I especially loved the portrayal in the recent TV Show Penny Dreadful. Just being aware of the premise of the book is no longer enough and I thought it was about time I read this classic for myself. It’ll be my first time reading any material by Oscar Wilde (I’m sure quotes don’t count) and I’m hoping The Picture of Dorian Gray lives up to the hype.Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde book cover

Have you read any of the classics above? Did you receive or give any books during the festive period? I gave a family member a copy of The Menzies Era by John Howard and another family member a handful of books by James Patterson.

Happy Reading in 2015.

Christmas Countdown – Kids’ reads to keep you calm and collected

If you’re already thinking how to fill the sleigh this Christmas, climb on in and assume the brace position because it’s only 44 more days until Christmas. Yes! As terrifying as that may sound, here are three fantastic new reads to lessen the impact. They are cheerfully Christmassy, are already, or destined to be classics and just perfect to start your countdown to Christmas in earnest with.

The Nights before ChristmasI don’t like to risk cavities on store-bought Advent calendars and don’t always have the time to make my own, so when The Nights Before Christmas: 24 Classic Stories to Share magically appeared, I bubbled with festive gratitude.

Twenty-four excerpts, poems, and yuletide stories even carol lyrics are thoughtfully brought together in a magnificently presented hardback anthology. Readers as young as seven will enjoy immersing themselves into this collection of traditional and contemporary tales but the real joy ignites when you spend each night with your child(ren) sharing the magic and anticipation of Christmas together.

Storytellers including Tolstoy, Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brother, Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Louisa May Alcott all contribute to the festive soirées but perhaps my favourite ‘night’ is Number 22, Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; reaffirming once again that to simply experience magic one need only believe in it.

Lavishly illustrated in glorious full colour by acclaimed UK illustrator, Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas is the penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. This is one Christmas keepsake you won’t be throwing out with the Christmas crackers. Highly recommended.

Koala Books imprint of Scholastic October 2014

Mr Darcy and the Christmas PuddingMy November Christmas to-do list often involves provisioning the pantry with more festive goodies than anyone can eat and making the Chrissy Pud, which is why Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas is included on this countdown list.

The ineffable Mr Darcy adores Christmas and having mastered his former social ineptitude with the help of his friends in the previous picture books, Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy and the Dancing Duck, prepares to involve them in a splendid yuletide celebration. He invites his nearest and dearest over on Stir-up Sunday to help bake the Christmas pudding but is somewhat disconcerted by the unexpected presence of Mr Collins.

Plucky ducky, Lizzy appeals to Mr Darcy’s more charitable side until he finally relents so that everyone, including Mr Collins, enjoys Christmas time, pudding and all.

As with all these titles, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding draws deliciously on Christmas traditions, mode a la Austen and how the expectation of the big event is often sweeter, more satisfying and twice as exciting as the day itself.

Pride and Prejudice fans have another one their collections. Three to six year-olds will be begging to lick the pudding bowl.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014

Tea and Sugar ChristamasAnother picture book that heralds the beginning of the festive season and is a definite keepsake for Christmases to come is Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen.

This is less of a picture book and more of a beguiling glimpse into the yesteryear life of Kathleen, a young resident of a settlement town along the Nullarbor Plain rail link back in the days when the Tea and Sugar Train travelled from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie once a week.

Jolly’s substantial prose ably transports us into Kathleen’s world past the ‘drooping peppercorn, bent acacias and scraggy salt bush’ as she eagerly awaits the provisions train in a heat so torrid her feet sear ‘like scones on a griddle’. Chocolate could only be brought in winter when it was less likely to melt.

Ingpen’s glorious line pencil drawings belie a world of colour as each page unfolds into a spectacular double panoramic spread emphasising the breathtaking enormity of the outback and the complexity of the Mixed Goods Train No 5205 aka The Tea and Sugar Train itself.

Tea and Sugar SantaBut what is so special about this week’s train, the one that every child on the Plains waits for on the first Thursday of December every year? Take the trip and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Tea and Sugar Christmas truly epitomises a child’s anticipation and expectations of Christmas no matter where or how they live. And as with all NLA publications, the fascinating factual inclusions ensure this is one of those special unexpected Christmas surprises you are sure to treasure.

National Library of Australia November 2014

Make room in the sleigh for more after you check out these fantastic gift ideas for kids from the Kids’ Reading Guide 2014. And stayed tuned for more fantastic pre-Chrissy posts guaranteed to keep you and your little ones inspired and excited and above all, well read!

 

Five Faves for the Festive Season

Make that, FIVE SIX FAVES FOR THE FESTIVE SEASON

It’s that time of the year when making wise gift choices can be as bewildering as wiring up your home with fairy lights. Nearly every title I review for kids is deserving of a place on the book shelf. Here are some extras worth stocking up on (pardon the pun).

How to make small things with VMFirst off the rank – a personal favourite because it does what it sets out to do – inspire, educate and entertain, How to Make small things with Violet Mackerel, Walker Books Australia. You might be familiar with a young girl named Violet Mackerel. She is the delectable creation of Anna Branford and Sarah Davis and an ardent lover of small things. Complementing the

Violet Mackerals small things by Gypsee Powell Dec 2013 (5)

heavenly Violet Mackerel series, How to make small things includes some of Violet’s favourite and most adorable small things with step-by-easy-step instructions, photographs and more of Davis’s gorgeous illustrations. Overflowing with exquisite detail and categorised into small things to wear, use and to give, young missies in particular will simply adore these crafty projects. As proof they really are doable, my Miss 8 recently road-tested a few projects for herself and her friends with triumphant success. I especially love the ‘thinking outside the square’ notations which encourage wonderful, unlimited creativity.

Clementine's Walk Clementine’s Walk by Annie White, one of two recent releases from New Frontier Publishing, October 2013.This is a fun, free-following story in verse about a dog named Clementine who is desperate to go on a walk with someone. But her family are too busy to pay her any attention, a common demise for 3 – 6 year olds. Beguiling pictures and a big-hearted storyline will make you smile.

Matilda saves Santa Claus Matilda Saves Santa Claus by Alex Field and Sophie Norsa, New Frontier Publishing, November 2013. It wouldn’t be Christmas without some sort of Christmas mystery and dilemma (insert wink). Matilda Saves Santa Claus awakens the magic of the season with endearing water colour illustrations and a warm tale about Matilda mouse who faces a lonely, treeless Christmas until she meets Rudolf who has caught himself in a spot of bother. With Matilda’s help, Santa is able to push through and deliver Matilda, her Christmas wish. Charming for the very young and lovers of Santa, like me.

 Fortunately, the milk…by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, Bloomsbury Books, September 2013. What happens when Mum’s away, Dad’s in charge and there’s no milk left for breakfast? Sounds like a potentially perilous adventure waiting to happen. And that’s exactly what takes place when Dad ventures out to replenish supplies. This page turning, illustrated chapter book will have 6 – 10 year olds laughing all the way to the corner shop and back. But will Dad ever make it back home with the milk? Slightly ridiculous. Instantly likeable.

Australia's Greatest People and their Achievements Australia’s Greatest People and their Achievements, by Linsay Knight, Random House Australia Children’s November 2013. Ever wonder about the people who make our nation great? Who they are? Or what have they achieved and why it is so important? Author Linsay Knight says, ‘Greatness…is about achievements and success, but it’s also about characters, perseverance and uniqueness.’ Knight offers us an enticing, colourful compilation of Aussie greats. Aimed for primary aged readers, this comprehensive collection of notable Australians covers a multitude of fields including science, sport, business, art, literature and social justice. Most are people you’ll recognise. Some will be vague names and memories come to new life. Even Phar Lap is mentioned. The clear, concise, colour-coded layout promotes ease of use and is packed with interesting facts and figures making it a reference book the whole family can visit repeatedly, because ‘every country needs its heroes and we must follow them.’ – Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.

Dear Father ChristmasMore Christmas sparkle for 4 – 8 year olds from Walker Books UK in a neat picture book package is Dear Father Christmas by Alan Derant and Vanessa Cabban. This epistolary styled story reveals Holly’s pre-Christmas conversation with Father Christmas or someone she believes to be him and is best cherished with younger children through shared reading. Swimming in charm, it tackles all the big questions about Father Christmas including; what the elves actually do; how FC gets down chimneys with a stomach that size, and what Erol the Lead Elf really looks like. Festive fun with pop-up letters from Santa , and a special little keepsake surprise that is sure to generate glitter smiles.

So whether it’s fact or fiction you’re after this Christmas, big kids or little kids you are trying to please, look no further than between the pages of a good book like these to satisfy. I just wish I had time to list more and bigger stockings to stuff them in.

Apple sauce imagesBefore I depart on a short silly season sabbatical I suddenly realise that it’s been almost a year since I began banging on about books here at Boomerang. And what a year it’s been! Hope you all made it through somehow and had more moments to treasure than despise. I think I did. I am thus reminded of one of the first reviews I posted. Here it is again. If you haven’t read this Christmas picture book, Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle before, delay no longer. For the love of Christmas – Enjoy!

 

A festive feast

I couldn’t resist taking a break from my Christmas duties to squeeze this post in. At this time of year, there’s a veritable sleigh-load of children’s Christmas books on offer; exciting new titles and plenty of old chestnuts too. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is one of the latter, which if not already part of your Christmas hamper, is destined to become so.

Brimming with rural Aussie flavour, this CBCA short-listed picture book is a sensitive juxtaposition of a pig, ironically named Applesauce, who feels hopelessly bereft after a bushfire sweeps away life as she knew it in her valley. Unable to come to terms with the loss, she succumbs to abject depression, certain there will be no Christmas this year for her and her beloved Joe and Marigold; the people she shares her life with.

Sage Owl consoles Applesauce, advising her that ‘Christmas comes from the heart’ not from what you have or have not got. But surrounded by such a bleak, scarred world, Applesauce is unable to feel anything but glum.

Meanwhile, others from the neighbouring bush are making their way through the empty landscape to see Joe and Marigold. We are still not sure why, although a glimpse at the book’s cover gives us a clue. The arrivals of the Shepard family and Marigold’s three slightly eccentric looking, elderly aunties all go unnoticed by Applesauce, that is until, she is finally introduced to Joe and Marigold’s new baby.

Suddenly, all that was miserable and desolate becomes cheery and meaningful. Cockatoos swirl like snowflakes. New red leaves blaze like fairy lights in the fierce sunlight, and it is amongst these simple and symbolic celebrations of new life that Applesauce lets ‘Christmas fill her heart again’.

Author Glenda Millard
Author Glenda Millard

From the first line, award-winning author, Glenda Millard, draws us almost imperceptibly into Applesauce’s pining for better days; days before drought and bushfire desecrated her world. Even without the exquisite illustrations of Stephen Michael King, Millard’s descriptions are deliciously seasoned with enough sensory detail to enable the reader to smell and feel the arid emptiness of the land; ‘night fell as dark as burnt toast’ is one image that lingers on long after being read and is thoughtfully followed by a text-less spread of night, star flecked sky.

King’s illustrations compliment the poignant text perfectly; never impinging on the tale, always filling each page with delicate, imaginative colour. I adore King’s quirky illustrative style and sense of fancy.  Both work well to retell a tale as old as Christmas itself. Adults sharing this picture book with young children will recognise the clever parallels to the nativity story. Young readers will enjoy the gorgeous imagery, magically told tale and simple yet strong Christmas message. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is guaranteed to fill your heart with the spirit of Christmas.

Recommended for pre-school age (3) and above.

Favourite Vintage Christmas Books

I must admit, I have a ‘thing’ for vintage and reproduction vintage children’s books. There’s something timeless and inherently beautiful about them – most especially at Christmastime. The following are books you may – or may not yet – know. All are resplendent with that typical retro feel – from the illustrations to the classic storylines that send you winging back to your own childhood. Enjoy this peek at Christmas past.

The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna

Whatever your religious incarnation, it’s so nice to read the Real Story of Christmas… not a ho-ho-ho or wishlist in sight. Originally published in 1964, this classic book has been reissued with Bruna’s iconic illustrations, scrumptious for its colour, its simplicity, its heart. From the shepherds herding their sheep to the angel and the star over the stable, this is a priceless addition to your family’s Christmas book collection. Classic, retro literature at its best.

Eloise at Christmastime by Kate Thompson

First published in 1958, this timeless book features the irrepressible Eloise at her very best, living it up at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny on Christmas Eve – and of course – causing all kinds of mischief with the staff and guests. Showcasing Hilary Knight’s iconic illustrations, the black, white and pink colouring lends a decidedly festive feel – and children will love exploring the hotel’s floor plan as Eloise sets about on her skibbling, zapping and zimbering rampage. Vibrant and utterly adorable.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

Reissued in 2004, this glorious 1973 book utilises the almost wordless, comic strip style Briggs is renowned for. When Santa wakes on Christmas Eve, he realises Christmas is here again (groan). He dresses, puts the kettle on, feeds the reindeer, washes his face, makes eggs and bacon, stacks the sleigh, says goodbye to the dog and cat before loading up the sleigh – all the regular stuff he’s been doing for so very long. Ah well, best get on with it. The comfort and joy of this book reminds us of the magic in the everyday and the everyday in magic.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore

It may not be a vintage book per se, but this rendition is certainly a timeless version of Clement C Moore’s renowned Christmas rhyme. Opening with a short biography on the author, it’s fascinating to learn this poem was first read to Moore’s nine children on Christmas Eve 1822, and was sent to a New York newspaper by a family friend, where it was first published anonymously under the title A Visit from St Nicholas. Australian artist Robert Ingpen’s mesmerisingly gorgeous illustrations create a breathtaking version of a time-honoured classic.

Christmas with Little Golden Books

Little Golden Books have been a staple on children’s bookshelves since 1942, when each book cost just 25 cents. Today, these still-affordable books stretch the gamut of characters and styles, and continue to provide both vintage and modern Christmas tales. In this mini tome of stories, kids can enjoy three stories – The Animals’ Christmas Eve, The Christmas Story and The Night Before Christmas.

The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M Scarry

Oh my goodness, I can still recall the scents as I pushed my nose into the gingerbread men and candy canes in this adorable book. I can still roll my eyes in joy at the pine tree. It’s all coming back to me now. An original scratch-and-sniff (when such things were new and fandangled), this precious book will enchant your children if only for the retro pace. No bells and whistles here. Just the memory-making visual and sensory thrill of a beautiful book.

 

 

Australian Authors and their Favourite Christmas Books

Isn’t it a fascinating thing to learn about the favourite books of others? Most especially, I must admit, when it comes to authors, illustrators and publishers – whose world is saturated with so many glorious tomes. Here, KBC shares a glimpse inside the hearts of some well-known talent from the children’s book industry – and learn more about either their favourite Christmas titles or their favourite bookish Christmas gifts. Enjoy!

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard (ABC Books)
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s gorgeous Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is an Australian take on the traditional Christmas story, set in the aftermath of bushfires. Glenda’s beautiful language and Stephen’s gentle art make this a story to treasure forever. – Claire Saxby, author

For All Creatures by Glenda Millard (Walker Books)
This beautiful book, by the team who produced Isabella’s Garden, pays homage to all creatures, to love and life, to kindness and gentleness and to the miracle of being alive. The language is rich, tender and warm, and wonderful to read aloud. The superb illustrations (by Rebecca Cool) are dramatic and varied. Every double-page spread is a surprise and a wonder. – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson (Little Hare)
A truly delightful book from this well-established author and illustrator partnership – Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. It’s about children who find a book which takes them on a wonderful journey, as books can. They love it and care for it so that they can enjoy it again and again. Engaging and evocative. A joy for all those who fear the death of the book! – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

Grug’s Big Book of Fun by Ted Prior (Simon & Schuster Australia)
It’s fabulous that Grug is available again for a whole new generation. New books are extending the series, but this 160-page activity book is a winner. It’s got everything to keep a young child busy: games, mazes, dot-to-dot, drawing, colouring-in, stickers, puzzles. Who could ask for anything more in their Christmas stocking? – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

My suggestions for Christmas books are a little different. How about making WITH the family, your own books?  You can use existing photos, children’s illustrations or even ‘feelie’ collages of stick- on textures like feathers or fur. They can be e-mail (digital) or print or even audio. Make it a non-commercial ‘sharing’ experience, so the collating is as important as the reading. Here are suggested titles: The Best Things About Our Family Christmas,  What Went Wrong at Christmas,  An Unexpected Gift. Grandparents or parents can draw on family historical anecdotes (true or tall storied). Make them a family gift! – Hazel Edwards, author

I would say How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is my favourite Christmas book. I love it because it’s Dr Seuss, and he would have to try very hard to write a book I didn’t like. The Grinch got me in from the moment I read the lines … But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. It is also brilliant how Dr Seuss gets the message that Christmas is so much more than just presents across without getting too syrupy and blecccchhhy. – Adam Wallace, author

I love The Snowman, a children’s book by English author, Raymond Briggs, published in 1978. Most people would know it from the 1982 animated film. The book is wordless and the film is most known for its beautiful theme song, Walking in the Air. The story is joyful, filled with wonderful images of a winter wonderland, a special connection between a small boy (who looks awfully like a child version of the author) and with the feeling of loss at the end when the snowman melts. Beautifully done as only Raymond Briggs can. The movie version inserts a visit to Father Christmas who gives him a scarf – I guess they thought the movie-going public couldn’t cope without a happier ending. – Sheryl Gwyther, author

I adore the perennial and everlasting novel, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. On the surface it appears to be the story of a miserable, stingy old man, Ebenezer Scrooge who, on Christmas Eve is visited by Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. They show him his present, lonely, friendless life and how it will end if he doesn’t change his ways. The undercurrent of the story shows Dickens’s sympathy for the working poor and the downtrodden of Industrial Capitalism in Britain in the 1800s. Some even say the story, and the various plays spawned by it, helped restore the holiday, the merriment and the festive feel of Christmas in Britain and further afield. The book has never been out of print. – Sheryl Gwyther, author

Review – Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas

Remember the days when we called Santa ‘Father Christmas’. Not too long ago, that’s for sure.

It’s also not too long ago that Santa saturation and adulation was a far less commercial thing. There was an inherent mystery and innocence about our connection with this most historical of creatures. Sadly, the fate of Father Christmas now seems to rest in how many DS games he can cram into his sack.

Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas brings back the whimsy and tradition of days gone by in this lovely picture book.

Combining digitised photographs and computer illustrations, the book takes children on a journey into the past introducing the origins of Santa and taking a peek into his illustrious and very elusive world.

Santa started his incarnation as the Bishop of Myra in Turkey. A rich but generous man, he gave much of his fortune away to the poor, especially kids. Legend says he even dropped gold coins down the chimney of one poor family, and they landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry.

Kids will love taking a little trip to the North Pole to visit modern day Santa, his mail room, workshop and even his home. They’ll meet Mrs Claus, the elves and the reindeer, and will even learn about the man in red’s magic snowsuit and the inner workings of his sleigh.

Just how does Santa travel around the world delivering presents in one night? Find out in this fun and very festive book.

Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas is published by Allen and Unwin.

 

Review – How Santa Really Works

Okay – so you want the dirt, the real deal on how things really go down in the Santa camp? Look no further. Author/ illustrator Alan Snow has all the inside info – and some facts may both surprise and delight you.

Did you know, for example, that Santa runs a Christmas College for Elves? Yes, he does. Of course, elves live all over the world but when they grow up, a lot of them move to the North Pole to work for Santa. You can imagine he needs a steady supply of festive helpers who do the job well! So he trains them onsite at his college.

There’s also major info on where all the toys come from, where they’re kept, how Santa works out if you’ve been naughty or nice, a full layout ‘map’ of his underground workshops and living quarters, a rundown on modern sleigh technology, what time Santa gets to your house… and more more more.

One thing that did shock me, though, was that – gasp – Santa is actually slim! It’s so he can fit down all those chimneys, of course. But just in case a sleepy child catches him in the middle of the night, he has a special emergency suit that triggers and inflates like a helium balloon, returning him instantly to his more rotund, widely-recognised form. Amazing, huh?

With crazy-good, quirky illustrations showcasing everything from toys to how the presents are organised, these seriously detailed pictures feature delicious labeling and inner workings that are usually reserved to those who work directly with Santa.

It’s time to open the lid on Santa. And Alan Snow shows you how.

How Santa Really Works is published by Simon and Schuster.

Review – Christmas Eve at the Mellops’

It’s almost Christmas, and Mr Mellops is reading the newspaper . . . an article on Christmas decorations. My how he loves the festive season!

Showing his boys the article, Casimir, Isidor, Felix and Ferdinand take it upon themselves to begin the hunt for a gorgeous tree to tiz up with festive bling.

Isidor finds a tree in the forest. Casimir does the same. Ferdinand, too – and let’s not forget Felix. But does one family really need four trees?

A kindly Mr Mellops suggests the boys head outdoors to see if they can find someone else in need of a beautiful festive tree. The boys approach the orphanage. But they already have a fine tree. They approach the hospital. But a splendid tree is already in place. Next is the prison, but the inmates are already kitted out with their own little tree (and besides, there’s not much more room in those teensy cold cells!).

Dejected, the boys trudge home, when they come across a little girl, weeping quietly in the street. Could she use a tree? Could her ailing grandmother benefit from a splendorous spruce? Could a lonely old lodger need a festive boost? What else can the boys do to make their Christmas celebrations more prosperous.

This sweet little piggy family shine in Tomi Ungerer’s heartfelt Christmas tale. Swoon-worthy, bi-colour illustrations hark back to a retro past, and are truly touchable. Warm, festive and tender, without an ounce of schmaltz, Ungerer continues to create modern classics that are an absolute must for book collectors.

Christmas Eve at the Mellops’ is published by Phaidon.

 

Review – Christmas Wombat

We all know and love Jackie French’s iconic Wombat – Mothball – and in this gorgeous festive book, featuring illustrator Bruce Whatley in serious bells-and-bauble mode, is pure escapism, for big and little kids alike.

It’s Christmas Eve and Mothball is lounging around doing what he does best. Scratching. Lazing. Scratching a bit more. Until he smells . . . da da de daaa . . . carrots! Yes, that’s right.

Though, why on earth anyone would want to plate up some carrots and just leave them there, awaiting some fantastical creature to come along and nibble them? Perhaps a creature starved and thirsty after flying through the night to the point of exhaustion . . . No mind! Mothball is happy to oblige and take care of any required nibbling.

But what’s this?

The appearance of some strange creatures with antlers and bells, angling for a nibble? Don’t like the look of these stately beasts. No, no. Walk off in a huff. Feeling tired. Ahhh . . . Here is a nook, in the bottom of this cumbersome, sleigh-like vehicle . . . perfect for a nap as it takes off into the heavens en-route to who-knows-where . . .

The nonchalance. The dry voice. The gentle humour. The priceless illustrations that make you want to reach out and squish and squeeze that adorable wombat . . . it’s all there in yet another Jackie French winner.

Christmas Wombat is a festive must-have for any Aussie child. Be sure to read it Christmas Eve . . . with a closely-guarded stash of carrots for errant wombats.

Christmas Wombat is published by HarperCollins.