Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Double Dipping – Last minute delights for Dad!

My Dad is a GiraffeMy Dad is a Giraffe

Dads are often described as bears and can be boorish but does yours remind you of a giraffe? If he’s tall and gentle, fast and spotty and good to climb up, chances are he is a giraffe.

My Dad is a Giraffe is the latest technicoloured picture book by genius, Stephen Michael King. I admit, I tend to sway a little when I hear his name, so enraptured by his talents am I. Happily, this new partnership of carefully considered words and whimsical illustrations encased thoughtfully in a blue-for-boys cover does not disappoint.

King uses a candy shop palette of colours and swirls and squiggles to paint one child’s description of their father, a character they are clearly in awe of. I mean, this guy can do really ‘amazing grown-up things like sitting in the big chair with his feet touching the ground.’ Concepts like this one capture the rapture only children can possess before life and logic over take them. Experiencing a Stephen Michael King picture book is exquisite in its own right. Experiencing this one is like holding a bubble between your fingers. It encapsulates the seemingly fragile and temporary yet intrinsically beautiful altruistic relationship young children share with their father figures.

Could not be better for Father’s Day.

Scholastic Press August 2015

Dear Dad I want to be just like YouDear Dad, I Want to Be Just Like You

I know some might be money for old rope, but picture books by interactive picture book team, Ed Allen and Simon Williams are often right on the money. In the same epistolary style as Dear Mum, I Love You, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You is a collection of cleverly crafted correspondences by an assortment of critter kiddies in praise of their fathers. And when your dad is as funny, sporty and brave, not to mention a whiz in the kitchen as these dads are, you’ll wish you were just like him, too.

Williams’ full-page portraits plunge readers into the colourful hearts and homes of each animal from King Emperor Penguin to Salt Water Croc. The letters, enveloped in sneaky little fold outs and pull outs are ridiculously cute and funny while the enclosed sentiments will strike a chord with dads everywhere. There is even a referral to FIFO dads or more accurately, SISO dads as told through the eyes of Daddy Humpback. (You work it out!)

Humorous and utterly alluring, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You embodies a love of letter writing with the intimacy of daddy-child relationships like no other. A highly recommended fun Father’s Day read.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

For more fantastic Father’s Day reads, have a look at my round up and Romi’s as well.

Last Minute Must Have for Mum – Picture book review

Dear Mum I love You #2This is a Mother’s Day book that shouts Mother’s Day and possibly one of the best picture book tributes to mums I’ve read since becoming one. It will melt your heart and make you want to scoop up someone small and hug them tight.

From the failsafe team of Ed Allen and Simon Williams, Dear Mum, I Love You addresses mums of all creeds and colours in a heart-warming, epistolary-styled, bright pink covered picture book. I love the concept of learning about the various glowing attributes of each young creature’s mother through their handcrafted notes and letters to her.

Clever word play deftly synchronises each creature’s relationship with their natural, species-specific behaviours; Junior the elephant loves wallowing in his bath for instance. Lachie the monkey loves hanging around with his mum; Mia appreciates the finer qualities of hide and seek thanks to her mum, the chameleon.

Each youngster’s little thank you note echoes the undiluted innocence and serenity the very young possess in truck loads without a trace of sentimentality or schmaltz. Well okay, it is a book full of love notes to mum so you’d expect a little cuteness. However, I never once felt trapped in a chocolate-box while reading this. Rather, it was a book I genuinely looked forward to sharing with my own child.

Allen’s sometimes-sarcastic humour and William’s pages of glorious colour balance it all beautifully. Each full-page spread is dense with textural detail and character rich imagery.

Philanthropically correct (at time of printing – I’m assured the .70c stamp is set to increase any day soon, though), Dear Mum, I Love You has real letters for little fingers to open, flaps to lift revealing hidden notes and most charming of all, real note paper for children to write their own message of love and appreciation to YOU. Arww… At least you would hope they act on this mindful prompt!

Dear Mum, I Love You combines the almost lost past times of letter writing and spending quality reading time together in a remarkably fun and delightful way.

As Evie, the deer sums up, ‘My favourite place in the whole wide world is always anywhere you are. I love you.’ And you’ll love this too.

Mother's day noteAvailable, in time for Mother’s Day sharing, here.

Scholastic Australia April 2015