The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

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Illustrations by Chris Mould

girl-saved-christmas-done

” Do you know how magic works?

The kind of magic that gets reindeer to fly in the sky? The kind that helps Father Christmas travel around the world in a single night? The kind that can stop time and make dreams come true?

Hope.

That’s how. 

Without hope, there would be no magic.”

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

I’ve been waiting for this for, ooh, ages. Having absolutely loved Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas last year (my review here), this book has been much-anticipated at Books-a-Go-Go. There’s always a bit of a risk building something up, but I wasn’t worried. This is, after all, Matt Haig and Chris Mould, so nothing less than gorgeousness was expected. I wasn’t disappointed.

Christmas Eve

Victorian London, a city of contrasts. At the gloomy end of things (and about as far from Queen Victoria as you can get) is our Amelia: a girl with hope in her heart but troubles on her doorstep. Her mother is very ill and they’re struggling to get by on Amelia’s wage as a chimney sweep. Then there’s the dastardly Mr Creeper waiting in the wings to send Amelia to his workhouse should the worst happen. Shudder. But Amelia believes in goodness and wishes coming true; she believes in Father Christmas.

Miles and miles away, up in Elfhelm, something is badly wrong. What began as a faint tremor develops into a catastrophe that not even the elves can fix. Everything hangs in the balance. Christmas is under threat and the magic created by children’s hope begins to fade…

Father Christmas is going to need help this time, but is it too late to rescue both Christmas and Amelia? Set over two Christmases, this is a festive feast with a big soul and a oodles of adventure. Kids aged nine years plus will love it: Matt Haig has a narrative style children will trust to take them on a wonderful journey. He’s clearly on the side of his young readers and kids expect that kind of thing but don’t always get it. For children to become hooked on fiction, they need a need to hear more of this kind of voice. It also helps if the story is great too, which this is.

Chris Mould’s fabulous illustrations bring everything to life. They are happily plentiful and bring more Christmas joy than you could shake a candy cane at. Remind me again why all books aren’t illustrated? It really does seem a shame that they aren’t, doesn’t it? Especially when they add so much.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas is, as expected, a gorgeous book with some lovely surprising touches. I’m planning to reread both together before the big day. The Girl Who Saved Christmas will hopefully be adding a little more magic to your Christmas too!

 

Huge spangly thanks to Canongate for sending me this lovely book.


The Twelve Books of Christmas- Children’s Christmas Books 2015

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Children’s Christmas Books 2015

Here’s my top twelve children’s books for Christmas 2015. I originally published these over two posts, but have now combined into one bumper list. You’ll find a selection of fresh recommendations here, no ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’, but hopefully a few delights that are new to the shelves or to you. Happy Christmas reading! Beccy x

1. The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen, Illustrated by Sanna Anukka

fir tree cover new

 

fir tree altered

The story of a little fir tree who is in a rush to grow up and consequently ends up missing some of the beauty that surrounds him. Not a happily ever after story, but poignant and lovely. Illustrated by Sanna Anukka, a print maker and textile designer and it’s Anukka’s work that really makes this book stand out. Eminently giveable.

2. The Enchanted Horse by Magdalen Nabb

enchanted amended

enchanted horse inner alt

Irina has a hard life and Christmas has never meant much to her. She can’t even think of a single thing she would like as a gift from her parents. But when Irina sees a tatty wooden horse in the window of a junk shop, she is immediately transfixed. She enters the shop and speaks to the owner who tells her a story: this little horse was once real but treated cruelly by her owner. When the owner died, the horse was nowhere to be found. In its place though was the tatty toy horse.

She convinces her parents to buy it for her, despite her mother’s misgivings, and keeps her in the barn. At Christmas time there is usually magic in the air and Irina’s adventures with her pony are just beginning… A heart-warming and unforgettable story.

 3. The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

FOX ALTERED COVER

fox altered in

A gorgeous chunk of a picture book, just a little smaller than A4, this tells the story of a fox who loses his friend the star. It’s very much like a poem and would make a wonderful gift for anyone who likes looking a little deeper into the text. It’s basically about grief so not really a typical picture book- there are no moles here who know it is none of their business- but please don’t be put off by the subject matter. There’s nothing maudlin about it. I guarantee the whole family will be passing this around on Christmas morning and ooohing at the beauty of this instant classic.

4. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, Illustrated by Sanna Annukka

snow queen amded new

snow queen altered

“Now then! We will begin. When the story is done you shall know a great deal more than you do now.”

Such a beautiful book. I reviewed its sister The Fir Tree earlier, but if anything this one is even better. One of those clever stories manages to feel Christmassy without actually being about Christmas, The Snow Queen is a breathtaking and wintry adventure. It’s perfect to read aloud as the telling feels so personal, almost like the reader is recalling it from memory. Just add hot chocolate and twinkly lights.

Sanna Annuka’s illustrations are again striking: quite flat and tabular and distinctive- as they need to be to stand out next to such a famous story. Genuinely this would be a thrilling stocking filler for pretty much the whole world.

 5. The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll

snow sister amended 2

sow sister altered“Christmas Eve morning wasn’t the best time for a telling off, yet Pearl Granger was about to get one.”

All of Emma Carroll’s books feel like classics, so this would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf. The Snow Sister is mysterious and enchanting, with talk of sugar plums and wise thoughts on the keeping of Christmas. Sadly lacking in dogs (Emma Carroll does write an excellent dog- see The Girl Who Walked On Air) but we can let her off this time as The Snow Sister is only 100 pages long after all. The ideal bedtime reading book for the week up to Christmas- I’ll certainly be reading it again next week!

6. The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb

the empty stocking amended

empty stocking innner amnded

“Anyway- it was Christmas night and as usual the family watched Elf, which was great. Then Dad read them The Night Before Christmas, which was very good, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was even better.”

Yes, it is by that Richard Curtis, high priest of the British romantic comedy and the man who brought us Bill Nighy, in the nude, strategically hidden behind an electric guitar, in the name of Christmas. The Empty Stocking is a yummy little hardback book, with friendly looking illustrations by Rebecca Cobb: the sort of pictures kids will happily try to copy and make their own.

This is the story of twin girls, Sam and Charlie, one good and one rather badly behaved. Charlie has been particularly naughty this year and not even mum and dad are expecting her to do very well by Santa. I won’t spoil the outcome of this very sweet story, but just to say that this is really all about sisterly love, actually. Could bring a truce to sibling squabbles in your house for a short while this season, and for that reason at least it’s worth the investment.

The best thing Richard Curtis has done for us since he let that nice chubby vicar lady marry Richard Armitage.

7. Snow by Sam Usher

snow cover

 

SNOW ALT 2

” I was ready to go,

but Grandad wasn’t.

 

I said ‘Don’t forget

the snow!’

 

And he said,

‘Don’t forget your scarf.’ “

Now this is a proper picture book: gorgeous illustrations, big enough for two to share and not too wordy. Another book with no mention of Christmas, and so it won’t lose its appeal come January 1st, but very seasonal all the same and perfect for anyone with a Grandad or a grandchild.

It’s snowed and our little boy is desperate to get out and play. The snow is untouched and enticing, too much to resist! Grandad however is not so quick to get ready and the little boy watches and waits while the whole neighbourhood seem to be getting out there first. In the end though, they make it to the park and agree that some things are worth waiting for. Grandad also proves himself to be something of a snowballing champ in the process. My pictures don’t do this book any justice. It’s simply lovely, very heart-warming and bound to give precious moments wherever it is found.

8. Snow by Walter de la Mare, Illustrated by Carolina Rabei

snow noow

 

snow wldm 2

“It heaps its powdery crystal flakes,

Of every tree

A mountain makes;

Till pale and faint 

At shut of day,

Stoops from the West

One wintry ray.”

It’s good to remember the glory of a snow-covered world, when I mostly think of it in terms of stopping distances and slippy pavements. This year I want to recapture some of that love and think that’s best done by remembering how I saw it as a child through Sam Usher’s book, but also in a way that everyone can find beauty, here with good old Walter de la Mare. It’s a poem, but some pages are entirely devoted to Carolina Rabei’s artwork. Believe me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

9. Northern Lights The Graphic Novel by Philip Pullman

northern lights amended

northern innner amnded

The world is made up of those who’ve read His Dark Materials and those who should have, of this I am sure. It’s the one series I recommend time after time that no-one takes me up on. I lose count of the times I’ve tried to tempt kids into reading His Dark Materials, only to see them to be put off by the length of the series. It’s so frustrating.

That’s why I think this book is brilliant. Kids will read it and enjoy it, remember it and return to the original stories when they’re ready. To dismiss it would be snobby and a bit pointless. It’s no coffee table book and there are no full-page pictures, it’s completely all about the story. A genuine bringer of joy this Christmas to readers aged nine up.

10. Winterfrost by Michelle Houts

winterfrost amended

“From the outside looking in, it might have appeared to be an ordinary Christmas on the Larsen family farm, nestled among the flat, snowy fields of an island called Lolland in the south of Denmark. The scent of kringle fresh from Mor’s oven mingled with the woodsy smell of the wispy white pine that Far had brought indoors just hours before. “

I’ve waited a year to tell you about this book, having missed last year’s festive blogging window. I so love it, and in honesty it’s not that Christmassy but rather more wintry in feel, making it just as good in January as it is in December.

Poor Bettina. Christmas without her Grandfather, Farfar, is painful and hard to manage. But when her parents are called away urgently on Christmas Eve, she is left home alone looking after the farm and her baby sister Pia. In the confusion, she forgets to put out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the nisse that help with the farm. What’s that you say? Oh, nisse? Well, they’re a bit like pixies or brownies: little people who help out whilst remaining unseen. You have to have great strength of character to believe in things you can’t see, but Farfar always believed in them and so Bettina tries to as well.

Now, there was a nisse helping out at the farm and that nisse missed his rice pudding very much. Bettina realises just how much when baby Pia disappears during her afternoon nap. Now Bettina has to rescue her sister before her parents return, and that means finding the unseeable nisse that she hardly believes in. As the winterfrost descents and a stillness settles on the island, she enters the forest she has known all her life and a new world unfolds.

Best read under the covers, with a torch, on the coldest nights of the year. Brrr!

11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay

harry potter new

harry potter hagrid MENDED

 

You must have heard of this one. Just when you thought Harry Potter couldn’t get any better, Jim Kay only goes and illustrates it. It’s ace: the majestic behemoth of Christmas bookish presents. That’s all really.

Oh go on then, here’s another picture.

 

harry potter in 2

And book twelve? Well, that has to be the outstanding A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t already checked it out, then do. It is quite simply brilliant.

boy christmas bunting

Merry Christmas-a-go-go-go-go-go folks!

(Update: Not enough for you here? I’ve just finished reading Rover Saves Christmas by Roddy Doyle and it’s fantastic- very funny of course and worth sneaking under the Christmas tree. Good, silly fun for anyone with a sense of humour from seven up.)

 

 


The Twelve Children’s Books of Christmas 2015 Part 2!

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Whatever your age, I strongly recommend hunkering down with one of these lovely books this Christmas. There’s something for everyone here, young and old alike. Guaranteed to eek a smile out of even the grumpiest humbug.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, Illustrated by Sanna Annukka

snow queen amded new

snow queen altered

“Now then! We will begin. When the story is done you shall know a great deal more than you do now.”

Such a beautiful book. I reviewed its sister The Fir Tree in The Twelve Books of Christmas Part One, but if anything this one is even better. One of those clever stories manages to feel Christmassy without actually being about Christmas, The Snow Queen is a breathtaking and wintry adventure. It’s perfect to read aloud as the telling feels so personal, almost like the reader is recalling it from memory. Just add hot chocolate and twinkly lights.

It also shows us that rare phenomenon of a story where both hero and villain are female, and the person who lies in mortal peril is actually a boy. CS Lewis nearly pulled this off in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, but ultimately it was Aslan who saved the day there. No giant God lions here however, just little Gerda who sometimes cries and often gets frightened but always pushes on to find her friend Kay. This is a wonderful thing to behold- read it to your sons everybody, even if they are in their mid-forties and heading up a successful sales division. No, especially if they are in their mid-forties and heading up a successful sales division.

Sanna Annuka’s illustrations are again striking: quite flat and tabular and distinctive- as they need to be to stand out next to such a famous story. Genuinely this would be a thrilling stocking filler for pretty much the whole world.

 The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll

snow sister amended 2

sow sister altered“Christmas Eve morning wasn’t the best time for a telling off, yet Pearl Granger was about to get one.”

All of Emma Carroll’s books feel like classics, so this would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf. The Snow Sister is mysterious and enchanting, with talk of sugar plums and wise thoughts on the keeping of Christmas. Sadly lacking in dogs (Emma Carroll does write an excellent dog- see The Girl Who Walked On Air) but we can let her off this time as The Snow Sister is only 100 pages long after all. The ideal bedtime reading book for the week up to Christmas- I’ll certainly be reading it again next week!

The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb

the empty stocking amended

empty stocking innner amnded

“Anyway- it was Christmas night and as usual the family watched Elf, which was great. Then Dad read them The Night Before Christmas, which was very good, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was even better.”

Yes, it is by that Richard Curtis, high priest of the British romantic comedy and the man who brought us Bill Nighy, in the nude, strategically hidden behind an electric guitar, in the name of Christmas. The Empty Stocking is a yummy little hardback book, with friendly looking illustrations by Rebecca Cobb: the sort of pictures kids will happily try to copy and make their own.

This is the story of twin girls, Sam and Charlie, one good and one rather badly behaved. Charlie has been particularly naughty this year and not even mum and dad are expecting her to do very well by Santa. I won’t spoil the outcome of this very sweet story, but just to say that this is really all about sisterly love, actually. Could bring a truce to sibling squabbles in your house for a short while this season, and for that reason at least it’s worth the investment.

Although this looks like a picture book for younger children, it’s really not. The font is very small and even though the content is perfectly suitable, those new to reading will struggle on their own. No matter, as this is best read aloud to brothers and sisters with plenty of opportunity given for kind words and cuddling. To be read with a big smile on the face. The best thing Richard Curtis has done for us since he let that nice chubby vicar lady marry Richard Armitage.

Snow by Sam Usher

snow cover

 

SNOW ALT 2

” I was ready to go,

but Grandad wasn’t.

 

I said ‘Don’t forget

the snow!’

 

And he said,

‘Don’t forget your scarf.’ “

Now this is a proper picture book: gorgeous illustrations, big enough for two to share and not too wordy. Another book with no mention of Christmas, and so it won’t lose its appeal come January 1st, but very seasonal all the same and perfect for anyone with a Grandad or a grandchild.

It’s snowed and our little boy is desperate to get out and play. The snow is untouched and enticing, too much to resist! Grandad however is not so quick to get ready and the little boy watches and waits while the whole neighbourhood seem to be getting out there first. In the end though, they make it to the park and agree that some things are worth waiting for. Grandad also proves himself to be something of a snowballing champ in the process. My pictures don’t do this book any justice. It’s simply lovely, very heart-warming and bound to give precious moments wherever it is found.

Snow by Walter de la Mare, Illustrated by Carolina Rabei

snow noow

 

snow wldm 2

“It heaps its powdery crystal flakes,

Of every tree

A mountain makes;

Till pale and faint 

At shut of day,

Stoops from the West

One wintry ray.”

It’s good to remember the glory of a snow-covered world, when I mostly think of it in terms of stopping distances and slippy pavements. This year I want to recapture some of that love and think that’s best done by remembering how I saw it as a child through Sam Usher’s book, but also in a way that everyone can find beauty, here with good old Walter de la Mare. It’s a poem, but some pages are entirely devoted to Carolina Rabei’s artwork. Believe me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Northern Lights The Graphic Novel by Philip Pullman

northern lights amended

northern innner amnded

The world is made up of those who’ve read His Dark Materials and those who should have, of this I am sure. It’s the one series I recommend time after time that no-one takes me up on. I lose count of the times I’ve tried to tempt kids into reading His Dark Materials, only to see them to be put off by the length of the series. It’s so frustrating. Every primary school I’ve worked in has copies of them, looking gorgeous and full of promise, but they are seldom read. Don’t misunderstand me, I think the books are incredible, and not a page too long, but know there are kids out there who would absolutely lap up the story if only they had the confidence in their ability to do it.

That’s why I think this book is brilliant. Kids will read it and enjoy it, remember it and return to the original stories when they’re ready. To dismiss it would be snobby and a bit pointless. It’s no coffee table book and there are no indulgent full-page pictures, it’s completely all about the story. A genuine bringer of joy this Christmas to readers aged nine up.

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts

winterfrost amended

“From the outside looking in, it might have appeared to be an ordinary Christmas on the Larsen family farm, nestled among the flat, snowy fields of an island called Lolland in the south of Denmark. The scent of kringle fresh from Mor’s oven mingled with the woodsy smell of the wispy white pine that Far had brought indoors just hours before. “

I’ve waited a year to tell you about this book, having missed last year’s festive blogging window. I so love it, and in honesty it’s not that Christmassy but rather more wintry in feel, making it just as good in January as it is in December.

Poor Bettina. Christmas without her Grandfather, Farfar, is painful and hard to manage. But when her parents are called away urgently on Christmas Eve, she is left home alone looking after the farm and her baby sister Pia. In the confusion, she forgets to put out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the nisse that help with the farm. What’s that you say? Oh, nisse? Well, they’re a bit like pixies or brownies: little people who help out whilst remaining unseen. You have to have great strength of character to believe in things you can’t see, but Farfar always believed in them and so Bettina tries to as well.

Now, there was a nisse helping out at the farm and that nisse missed his rice pudding very much. Bettina realises just how much when baby Pia disappears during her afternoon nap. Now Bettina has to rescue her sister before her parents return, and that means finding the unseeable nisse that she hardly believes in. As the winterfrost descents and a stillness settles on the island, she enters the forest she has known all her life and a new world unfolds.

Best read under the covers, with a torch, on the coldest nights of the year. Brrr!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay

harry potter new

harry potter hagrid MENDED

 

You must have heard of this one. Just when you thought Harry Potter couldn’t get any better, Jim Kay only goes and illustrates it. It’s ace: the majestic behemoth of Christmas bookish presents. That’s all really.

Oh go on then, here’s another picture.

 

harry potter in 2

And book twelve? Well, that has to be the outstanding A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t already checked it out, then do. It is quite simply brilliant.

boy christmas bunting

Merry Christmas-a-go-go-go-go-go folks!

 

 


You had me at Ho Ho Ho. A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

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A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

boy christmas bunting

Ever Wondered?

Have you ever wondered how Father Christmas became Father Christmas in the first place? Everyone was young once after all, so how did the tubby guy end up wearing the red suit, living with elves and reindeer and making Christmas special for so many children around the world? Do you know, I’d never really considered this, rather thinking of him as arriving fully formed, in the same way as I think of other figures of questionable being, such as Mother Nature, the Loch Ness Monster, and God.

Being a million times more creative than the average person, Matt Haig has not only considered this, but also come up with the best story ever to describe it. A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig is a wonderful book, an instant classic full of such warmth even to soften the most sour Christmas Claustrophobic (ho ho) to this magical time of year.

Long Ago…

Usually at the point, I’d give you a bit of a synopsis, but not today. This is simply the true story of how Father Christmas came to be. We all know the outcome and Hollywood have re-imagined the story of the last hundred years of his life many times where we usually conclude all we have to do is have a bit of blind faith. Matt Haig’s approach is to give us more information and so he takes us way, way back, right back to the beginning when Father Christmas was just a normal boy…

It’s one of those genius ideas you wish you’d come up with yourself, until you remember you are not a genius but actually the sort of person who likes writing about them instead. Matt Haig is a very clever man and he doesn’t half understand people, how we think and what we hope for. Turns out he also knows a thing or two about elves and reindeer too. It’s all here: thoughtful, funny, and full of utterly plausible magic. The artwork is lovely too and there’s plenty of it, thanks to Chris Mould whose drawings fit perfectly with the story.

boy insde

Take That, Unbelievers!

Read it to your class, your kids, your dog, yourself, enjoy the pictures and look forward to picking it up again this time next year, the year after and the year after that or any time you feel in need of some Christmas gorgeousness. Perfect for the build up to the big day.

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig should be compulsory reading for anyone who needs further proof that Father Christmas exists. And for everyone else too.

 


Last Minute Pressies for Bookish Kids

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Four quick solutions for kids who read. Chances are they won’t have these books already… Quick, quick, not much time!

Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow

here be

The first of the Ratbridge Chronicles. If you can’t get volume one, I shouldn’t worry too much- the others will be just as good and full of the same imaginative characters on smashing new adventures. Being a multi-talented bloke who works as an artist as well as an author and also with computers and in film (blimey), Snow brings something a bit different to the mix. Any kids who get into this world will also be delighted by his website– an extra bonus with lots to offer. The books: original, pleasingly thick (but not dauntingly so as there are illustrations on every turn) and very good quality. Plenty of action and adventure but also brilliantly funny.

Some of the creatures:

photo 2 (1)photo 3 (1)photo 1 (1)

I’ll leave Boxtrolls as a lovely surprise, should you choose to read it. Buy for kids (or adults) who enjoy David Walliams books and the Mr Gum series. Beautifully silly.

GGGGG – Gogogogogo- A true book of glory. We love.

Deathscent by Robin Jarvis

deathscent

This is darker and rather more tricky to read than Here Be Monsters, that’s for sure. Robin Jarvis is a very famous author but Deathscent was published in 2002 and so is one of his more obscure books for older children. I checked with Ruth to see if she knew it and she didn’t- if Ruth doesn’t know it, it’s a fairly safe bet that it will be a new addition to most book shelves.

This is a fantasy book which sucks you in quickly and feels very believable. Descriptions are eye-opening; you’ll be re-reading them just to experience again and the events in the story will stay with you for years. A good book for Neil Gaiman fans, especially those who enjoyed Stardust. Great for kids looking to move on from Potter type books but who aren’t quite ready for the enormity of Middle Earth and Gormenghast. The front cover is a bit scary so serves as an excellent indicator of the tone. Have a look, see what you think.

GGGG- Gogogogo- Ooh, that was really rather good. I feel a warm glow.

The Magic Pudding By Norman Lindsay

pud

Like the previous two authors, Lindsay is also an illustrator as well as a writer and the book is packed with gorgeous drawings. It was written in 1918 as the result of an argument Lindsay had with a friend. His friend said that children liked to read about fairies, Lindsay insisted that they preferred to read about food. It turns out he must have had a point, being as it’s still in print nearly one hundred years on.

A fairly bizarre book, this would be a good present for anyone who likes something a bit off the beaten track. It’s based in Australia and is not too surprisingly about a magic pudding. Actually, it doesn’t need to be a pudding, it could be any sort of food- that’s down to its owner to decide. The magic comes in as it can never be finished; there will always be some left for another meal. I know, sounds a bit grim, stick with it. The pudding itself is one of my favourite characters. It has a terrible attitude, very troublesome and unpleasant and is prone to running away. I love it. The other creatures you meet aren’t much better. Animals of bad character who consider themselves gentleman travellers, who originally stole the pudding by pushing its baker off an iceberg without a second thought. They find themselves somewhat challenged in the quest to keep the pudding to themselves, fist-fighting and plotting their way through the story. I can’t really compare it to anything I’m afraid, but it’s a good starting point for exploring older children’s literature. A couple of pics to set the scene:

photo 1 (2)photo 2 (2)photo 3 (2)

GGG- Gogogo- I liked it.

Happy last minute shopping and merry Christmas!


Present Ideas: The First of Five Great Reads Bookish Kids Won’t Already Have

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Christmas Presents: The First of Five Great Reads Bookish Kids Wont Have

Christmas Presents: The First of Five Great Reads Bookish Kids Wont Have

It’s a tricky old thing giving a book as a present. If you’re giving to someone who reads a lot it is of course a good idea to avoid the best-sellers lists as the chances are they will already have it. Your best case scenario in this situation is that they loved the book so much they’re completely delighted to have two copies: one to read and one to treasure for posterity, vacuum wrap, lie lovingly in a darkened room awaiting its glorious appearance on Antiques Road Show, etc etc. I’m not sure this happens very often.

If they’re a good egg, they will probably tell you they’ve never read it but have heard of it and always wanted to. Believe me on this- I have been that good egg on more than one occasion. The most reliable way to give a book is as the result of a previous conversation- but make sure you haven’t recommended something so wholeheartedly in the past that they already went out and bought it for themselves…But this series of posts covers things when you haven’t got a scooby and the recipient is, ooh, shall we say about nine to twelve years old? (Although I do think they are all a brilliant read for any age, obviously.)

Tried and Tested Fictional Treat

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

I love this book. I love it so much that although this post started life as a top five, before I knew it I’d written 600 words on just Captain Bluebear. It truly deserves its own review, no sharing. Why do I love it? From the minute Bluebear was introduced, a tiny baby bear floating at sea in a walnut shell, I was hooked.

photo (28)

I hope it is still as obscure as it used to be. Amazon calls it a cult novel, I call it an adventure of fabulously epic proportions, as silly as knees and nearly as necessary.

The Lowdown

Good things about this books that kids will appreciate:

  • It starts and ends with different maps. A rather exciting one at the front with landmarks such as ‘Bollog’s Head’,’ The Malmstrom (Hole in the Sea)’ and ‘Minipirates’. The young ‘uns will be turning back to this throughout the book to check on Bluebear’s progress and location.
  • It’s split into 13 1/2 sections- the various lives of Bluebear, obviously. All excellent, plenty of variety in the settings, from the Demerara Desert and Tornado City to the 2364th Dimension. Also, there’s no contents page (in my copy anyway), so each new adventure is a surprise. And I suppose that if you don’t get on so much with one, there isn’t long to wait until the next…
  • The characters are fantastic and plentiful. There are Venetian Midgets, Mountain Maggots, Diabolic Elves and Time Snails. Babbling billows for one example are overemotional waves that can speak.They cry easily and give out damp hugs. They also end up teaching Bluebear not only his first words, but also how to murmur, maunder, gabber, prattle and confabulate. I live in hope of meeting one. Characters are introduced in the normal fiction way, ie we happen upon them and find out a bit, but Moers also adds something a little extra to the book by changing style and writing further in the style of an encyclopaedia entry. The encyclopaedia, incidentally is written by Professor Abdullah Nightingale- you’ll meet him later in the book too. Oh and while we’re on the topic of characters, spare a thought for poor Fredda, an Alpine Imp. A species known for their extreme ugliness and loving natures, this doesn’t really help Fredda’s love for Bluebear become anything more than unrequited. Aaah poor thing.
  • The author must have had a great time writing this. It’s such good fun to read, the illustrations are exceptional and there are loads of them. Loads and loads. Of all different types and sizes. Some pages have only one huge word on them. There are recipes, diagrams of mazes, brain maps, letters from poor Fredda. The joy of silly comes across loud and clear. It’s the sort of present everyone will have a leaf through on Christmas Day and a chuckle at as even without getting into the story there is plenty to enjoy.
  • It’s very long, about 700 pages. Perfect for dark nights and grotty weather, plus something to read when the ancient relatives nod off under the influence of stodgy puds and mucho vino. Enough reading material to see you through about five years of bedtime stories here.

Photos

Still not convinced? Here’s some photos of artwork from the book to help you along:

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GGGGG A true book of glory to love. For life, not just Christmas.