Review – Nicholas, Where Have You Been?

Nicholas is hunting for sweet juicy berries with his friends but all the best berries have been gobbled by birds. Determined to find some of his own, he sets off into the field where’s snatched by a big ugly bird. Fearing for his life, he wriggles until the bird drops him – right into a bird’s nest.

“Stay with us,” say the baby birds in the nest, keen to learn more about mice and their ways. When the mother bird returns with a worm, she’s happy to let him stay. She asks Nicholas what field mice eat – and of course, Nicholas tells her he simply adores the sweetest and juiciest berries. So, the mother bird flies off and returns with the very same.

Nicholas can’t resist staying on. He sings and chats and gobbles berries with the birds, until one day he wakes to find his friends gone.

Climbing down the tree carefully, he returns to his mice friends who ask him where on earth he’s been – and when Nicholas tells him he was snatched by a bird, they become enraged. Asking them to be patient, he soon explains about the mother and her babies, and that not all birds are bad.

Which, of course, is the moral of the story.

Leo Lionni created this sweet, retro book in 1987, when he was 77 years old. Resplendent with classic storytelling and striking, graphic imagery, it’s one of several animal-inspired tales the author is famous for, many of which feature mice.

Nicholas, Where Have You Been? is published by Dragonfly Books.

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.