Sunday 15 December 2019

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher Illustrated by Shane Devries

Published by: 2016, Penguin


This story roared into my life two Christmas' ago on the back of my children's enthusiasm for 'The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas', also by Tom Fletcher (and Dougie Poynter). Although they were too young for this middle grade novel, I couldn't resist the pull of the cover and the curiosity (plus possibly a smidge of scepticism) of how Christmas would be combined with a dinosaur...
By the end of chapter one that scepticism had vanished and I was pulled into an icy, magical whirlwind of a tale full of warmth (despite all the snowy scenes) and enchantment. In fact, I loved it so much it remains my favourite Christmas story to date.
The book feels well-plotted, is full of delightful characters and is bursting with more imagination than fruit in a Christmas pud. The description of Santa's ranch in the North Pole should fulfil every child's dream and the Christmasaurus is certainly one of a kind.
William Trundle loves two things: dinosaurs and Christmas. No surprises then when he asks Santa for his very own dinosaur for Christmas...except there is...a surprise that is...for there is something more hiding under the ice than a toy dinosaur and even Santa might get more than he bargained for.
When, William is targeted by the new school bully and his life quickly descends into abject misery, a Christmas adventure becomes exactly what William needs. Bring on the Christmasaurus!
But there is more to this story than just Christmassy fun. The story is inclusive, with the main character being a wheelchair user, and gives a strong insight into both the impact of bullying, the life of a bully and the emptiness of losing a loved one.
If you are a both a Christmas and a dinosaur fan then this is a dream read for you. If you are not particularly a fan of either, then give it a go anyway, it's charm might just win you over.

The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Shane Devries

  Published: 2019, Puffin


After my rave review of the first book, this sequel was pre-ordered months before it was released.
Imagine my surprise then, when half-way through this one I was almost at the point of giving up...and I rarely give up on a book once I've started it.
At first, I couldn't work out what the problem was. The imagination of the tale was beyond belief, the characters as loveable but the story felt random, odd, and I felt strangely disconnected.
And then I hit upon the trouble. Whereas in the first book, William Trundle is in desperate want and need of something, this time our main character is happy and content and events just seem to strangely unfold around him...
and then almost halfway through the story, William meets his lost mother and from that moment, everything clicks into place.
William Trundle is delighted when Santa pays an unexpected visit and whisks his new blended family off to the North Pole for a sightseeing tour. But strange things are afoot. Why is Santa acting peculiar? And who on earth is the Winter Witch?
Meanwhile, thanks to William's old arch-enemy-turned-new-sister Brenda and her greed-grabbing father, the whole future of Christmas is threatened. With the help of the Christmasaurus, can he possibly save Christmas and those he loves most?
For me, this was a book of two halves. The second half was a story to rival the first book whereas the first half felt rambly and disorientating. Tom Fletcher's imagination is astonishing, the descriptions delightful and the take on time travel the most terrific I've ever read.
Unlike the first book, this is a fractal-filled storm of a read... more challenging in both plot and time...but definitely worth sticking with...especially if you want to know who the Winter Witch really is?

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Decking the bookshelves with longer Christmas reads...

That's it! If we're going to fit in all the Christmas stories we want to read in our house then I think we're going to have to start in July. Every year we think we have plenty of time and every year the weeks disappear as quick as the boxes of chocolates under the tree. What with Christmas plays, fayres, Santa visits, there is very little time to read at all. So when we do get to curl up in front of the fire, accompanied by the cosy, twinkling Christmas lights, we need our book to be a good one!
Unlike Christmas picture books, longer stories require more time and more commitment. There's the old, familiar, comforting ones and then there's the new releases. But which do we choose? Do we take a gamble a new one or stick with the old favourites?
This is where book reviews can help! Although they are purely subjective, they can provide a guideline for what to expect and maybe highlight festive reads that have passed you by completely. 
So without further ado, here are our current round-up of Christmassy chapter books. 

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise by Laura Owen and Korky Paul

Published by: Oxford University Press, 2018


This pocket sized delight packs a festive punch. Short, snappy and sizzling with festive frolics, these two brilliant characters are creating Christmas chaos from the south pole to the north. 
Kind, generous but haphazard Winnie is desperately worried that Santa won't have any presents at Christmas so she organises a Christmas he won't forget. But transporting packages and a rather unexpected polar bear to the North Pole is no easy task. Travelling from pole to pole, using a combination of magic and mayhem, Winnie ropes in enchanted vegetables, a gingerbread house and Wilbur's brand new PawTech to help her reach Santa on time...but will her Christmas treat go according to plan or is there a better gift she can give to the big man himself? A warm, wintry tale of kindness, fun and friendship. 

One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell and Emily Sutton

Published by: Bloomsbury, 2017


Where Winnie and Wilbur is magically modern, this book, written by one of my favourite authors, has a timeless, almost old-fashioned feel to it. It filled with as much magic as Christmas itself, but the magic feels older, wiser and gentler - a definite classic with echoes of 'A Christmas Carol' and the 'Nutcracker'.
 When Theodore is left home alone on Christmas Eve- with no one but a sleeping babysitter for company- he makes a wish upon a strange looking star (or is it a plane?). Suddenly four of his ancient Christmas ornaments come alive, leading on a magical, snow-filled journey across his hometown.
The characters are joyful; the angel, rocking horse, tin soldier and robin all shine with joyful personalities and all are searching for something, just like Theo. In fact, Theo doesn't feel like the main character in this story, as he is led on a journey by his enchanting companions. 
The tale is a cosy, Christmas treat so traditional that the modern day setting didn't quite work for me.  However, put aside the odd mention of phones (and planes) and you have a tale, that's certainly a little random, but full of endearing charm. 

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs and retold by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw

Published: 2018, Puffin


A Christmas classic retold in words by a highly esteemed author. What could be better? 
Nothing...? The cover is stunning, the snowy tale is widely known and I couldn't wait to share this with my children.
Except, as I started to read it, it all felt a little bit strange and I couldn't put my finger on why. 
Until it came to me...I was reading the story not seeing the story.
The biggest draw of this beautiful story in picture book and film format is that it unfolds in front of our eyes through pictures with no need for any explanation. It's as silent as the snow and as stunning as the hearing myself speak the story felt odd. There were details about the characters I didn't know, names and explanations that felt new and unfamiliar and unnecessary. 
But my children didn't feel like this. This story was integral to the whole of my Christmas childhood but not so familiar to them. They've seen the film, know the sequel and were hungry for we got stuck in. And gradually my unease fell away. 
The tale is told in a simple, classic style. With a story that speaks so strongly (and silently) for itself, there's no need to embellish it with fancy language and Michael Morpurgo doesn't. The result is a charming, Christmassy tale about a boy who is whisked away into the magical night skies by the snowman he creates. Tuck it into a Christmas eve box along with the film, cosy pyjamas, slippers, a hot chocolate and an edible snowman and you'll have a magical Christmas treat. 

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Decking the bookcase with Christmas Picture Books...

It's that time of year again when our Christmas book box makes it's way down from the loft and is unpacked into the bookcase. And it doesn't matter how old the kids get (or me for that matter) there are always whoops of delight as festive favourites are pulled out from a year in hiding.
Re-visiting the same stories year upon year though is only half the fun. Every December sees a bountiful bunch of new Christmas releases hit the bookshelves and leaves me wondering where I start...and where my book budget is going to come from.
As our bank balance is sadly low this year, I can't set upon buying new Christmas tales in the way I would like to. I have allowed myself a couple to cosy up to by the fire and will be talking about those in my next post. However, for now, as it is always fun to spread the word about stories, here is a round-up of our current family faves.

The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas by Dougie Poynter and Tom Fletcher.

Published by: 2012 by Red Fox.

I've talked about this series in a previous blog post so I won't spend long on this. Needless to say that this bouncy rhyming naughtiness brings the house down every year and is the first my autistic daughter pulls from the box. Ask her to pick her favourite line and she'll happily repeat it all day long:

                                             'And last but not least but never forgotten,
                                             Granny plopped out of the dinosaur's bottom.'

As discussed in my toilet humour post, this story isn't for everyone (my mum included). However, if you let yourself go and also let the fact that parts of the story have very poor rhyme go, this raucous romp of a Christmas story will have you rolling with laughter. It certainly pays not to be greedy...

Santa's Beard by Matilda Tristram and Tom Duxbury

Published by: 2014, Walker Books Ltd

A fun novelty book in which Santa's Beard, which has a huge personality, flies away from Santa to find another owner. After flying around the world and failing to find a friend who wants to wear him, he dejectedly makes his way back to the North Pole, where he finds he has most definitely been missed.
This book starts Christmassy and finishes Christmassy but isn't Christmassy at all in the middle. However, the fun of sticking Santa's beard on to the faces of a chef, pirate, baby and princess (to name a few) is something my kids have never tired of. They particularly like it when it ends up returning to the North Pole and promptly bashes Santa on the bottom.
A festive frolic for little ones.

Fancy Dress Christmas by Nick Sharratt

Published: 2012 by Alison Green

Any story which involves Nick Sharratt writing or illustrating is usually a winner in our house. This series has been particularly popular and the Christmas version especially so.
This is a simple but effective concept which appealed to my children from when they were tots. With the oldest now 9 years old, it is still as popular as ever.
The animals are off to a fancy dress Christmas themed party. As they dress up in their costumes, can you guess who is who? When you think you've cracked it, lift the flaps to find out. And what is Santa going to bring them this year?
With delightfully cute illustrations and loveable characters your little (or not so little) ones will enjoy exploring this book with you again and again.

Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Published by: 2017, Oxford University Press

I can't think of a single Winnie and Wilbur story we haven't enjoyed as a family. Several years ago we purchased the box set and have been adding to it ever since. With two of the most loveable characters in children's literature at the helm, this was set to be a winner full of Christmassy charm and it is.
It's Christmas Eve and Winnie and Wilbur are awaiting Santa's annual visit. But when he gets stuck in their chimney, it's clear he needs help. Can Winnie and Wilbur help him to deliver the presents before it's too late or is it time for Winnie to conjure up the magic?
Winnie and Wilbur are a strong, character-led duo who never fail to entertain. Funny, relatable and fizzing with mischievous magic, these stories will always be part of our home.

*Look out for my review of Winnie and Wilbur's Christmas chapter book coming up in my next post.

So it's HO-Ho-Ho and happy reading. We'd don't feel we've even cracked the ice on the Christmas picture book market so feel free to send us your recommendations for the season and we'll check them out under the Christmas lights.

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