Saturday, 19 November 2022

Seasonal Round-Up: Christmas is coming...

What The Ladybird Heard At Christmas by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

 Link to publisher

Published by: Pan Macmillan, 13th October 2022

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What The Ladybird Heard, with its farm animal sounds and repetitive language, was a firm favourite with all three of my children when they were toddlers and, even though they are now school-age, they always love to hear a new story in what has become a BIG series. What The Ladybird Heard At Christmas is the fifth title to be published and offers a seasonal take on the original story. 

Ladybird is off to a big, old house to visit her friend Spider for the festive season. But villainous crooks, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, are lurking in the shadows and when Ladybird hears their plan to steal the presents out of the children's stockings, she just has to do something about it. 

With the usual fabulous illustrations from Lydia Monks and a slight variation in animal sounds, this story, as with the others, offers something familiar yet different. The rather sinister plot of foiling two thieving criminals is kept humorous and light-hearted with the heroic Ladybird devising another clever scheme that brings about a satisfying ending and a win to the true-hearted animals.

Although Christmastime is the setting for this story and an appearance from Santa is evident just from looking at the front cover, I particularly enjoyed the fact that the animals remain the star of the show and the structure we've come to love is enhanced, not over-shadowed, by the festivities. The plot does evoke a slight Halloweeny feel in parts, but this certainly doesn't take away any of the Christmassy enjoyment. Whether you've read any of the other stories or not, this is a great Christmassy picture book to share with your little readers. 


The Big Christmas Bake by Fiona Barker and Pippa Curnick

Link to publisher

Published by: Happy Yak, Quarto, 4th October

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This picture book is a great big Christmassy hug which made my tummy rumble. Combining our nation's love of Bake Off  (and who doesn't love Christmassy baking anyway) with a very popular Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, it focusses on the twelve days AFTER Christmas, rather than the Christmas build-up, and the tradition of baking a twelfth night cake. This is an element of Christmas which has perhaps become a bit lost in British culture but which still remains very popular in other countries and it was lovely to see it being brought back to life. 

"Christmas Day is over now,

                                                                       Santa's been and gone.

                                                                       But Christmas lasts for twelve more days!

                                                                       Let's put our aprons on..."

In a clever twist from author Fiona Barker, it is not the 'true love' that is bringing the gift of animals (and rings) but the animals bringing the ingredients for a twelfth night cake - an idea that illustrator Pippa Curnick has run wild with, whipping up dancing hippos, festive penguins and flour bags full of pure joy. The five gold rings are beautifully adapted and there are some lovely extras at the end which include a recipe and the original song. There's not much else to say except...On the first day of Christmas, I really hope Santa brings us this book! 

A big thanks to NetGalley, MacMillan and Quarto for allowing us a review of both of the above picture books. 


Kid Christmas by David Litchfield

Link to publisher

Published by: Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 4th October 2022

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A new picture book from David Litchfield is always a delight and Kid Christmas delivers the perfect festive package of a gorgeous story wrapped around stunning illustrations. This has the feel of a timeless classic - a story that will bring generations together and which  grannies and grandads will love just as much as little ones. 

Nicky Claus works with his three uncles in the Claus Brothers Toy Emporium. But when, one day, he discovers a huddle of homeless children who will never be able to afford a toy, he devises a grand plan to bring happiness to EVERY child in the city. 

This is a cosy, heart-warming story about friendship, about Santa as a child and how the legend of Father Christmas was born. However, it also highlights the more serious issues of homelessness and poverty - that are still very relevant today - as well as giving up a glimpse of what a child's life might have been like in the past. Through skilled and gentle storytelling, David Litchfield raises fundamental questions up for discussion: what is the true meaning of Christmas? How can we address the inequality that plagues our society? What is fair and unfair?

As Nicky Claus befriends a homeless girl, his hopes to create a better world is infectious. The friendship itself is more powerful than the presents, the kindness behind the gesture more moving than the actual act and we are left with a powerful reminder of how things should be, rather than how things are. I loved the role of the firefires, the generosity and kindness of the children who have nothing and the big dreams and determination of the Claus brothers to bring about the impossible. It's a moving tale that will definitely be read in our house for every Christmas to come. 


Supertato: Evil Pea and the Beanstalk by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet


Published by: Simon and Schuster, November 10th 2022

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Bringing us a refreshing and funny alternative to a Christmas story, Supertato presents a pantomime adventure starring evil pea as the main act: Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. Bringing his own interpretation to the role, Evil Pea makes his way through the well known story, supported by a cast of our favourite supermarket veggies. 

When Jack and his Supermum have to sell their cow for beans, Jack is not impressed and flings them away. But when he discovers the beans have turned into a beancumber, he sets off on an adventure and steals some eggs from a golden hen. But the hen belongs to a giant (watermelon) who is not happy to find he's been robbed. Can Jack and his supermum become 'escapeas' or will they get caught?

This is an hilarious addition to the Supertato series and possibly our favourite. My autistic daughter loved the splat-stick ending, making me read it over and over again, and even my husband came to join in the fun - making it a family event not unsimilar to enjoying an actual pantomime. Evil pea adds extra humour in his reluctant casting as Jack and there a lots of familiar pantomime lines to join in with - oh yes there is!

Supertato is great in his supporting role as Supermum and there are lots of appearances from familiar favourites. Golden Pineapple made me laugh out loud and you might recognise the giant from a previous Supertato story (I didn't but my son did, proving that children are so much quicker at making connections). It's fun, it's festive (but without a Santa hat in sight) and it fizzes with happy energy - we loved it!


Unipiggle: Fairy Freeze

Link to publisher

Published by: Usborne, September 2022
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Perfect for 5-7's, Unipiggle is one of our favourite young fiction series and, as always, this new release, Fairy Freeze, is full to bursting with rainbow illustrations and loveable characters. But as Princess Pea and Unipiggle enjoy some festive fun in the frost and snow, there's a problem looming...

It's almost time for the Twinkleland Palace Snow Ball and Princess Pea is delighted when snow arrives in time for the celebration. But when the festive fairies fail to spread their usual sparkle and cheer across the kingdom, Princess Pea and Unipiggle race against time to find out what's wrong...

As you can gather from the front cover, this story features a host of very festive looking fairies. Yet, don't be fooled because inside, Christmas isn't mentioned and Santa doesn't feature. Instead, Hannah Shaw offers us a festive alternative in a magical realm that feels different but familiar. 

Like all the Unipiggle stories, this is a charming caper full of fun, humour, adventure...and chocolate. There's high stakes, lots of laughs, some icy incidents and plenty of snowballing. Amid all of that, however, little readers can unwrap an important message; a message about being overlooked, excluded and taken for granted. Can Princess Pea right the wrongs of the realm? You'll have to turn the pages to find out. 


Operation Nativity by Jenny Pearson

Link to publisher

Published by: Usborne, October 2022

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If you're looking for a more traditionally orientated story this Christmas then Operation Nativity could be the perfect choice. Featuring the ACTUAL Mary, Joseph, Angel Gabriel, Wise Man and Steve the Shepherd, it twists the origins of Christmas into a totally original and hilarious concept:

Oscar, Molly and their parents are spending Christmas in Chipping Bottom with their grandparents. Their grandmother is determined to include them in her dazzling nativity production but when they find a dazed Angel Gabriel wandering around in the back garden, they soon become embroiled in saving the original Christmas nativity. If they fail...then Christmas (and Oscar and Molly) will cease to exist. 

In this brand new Christmas classic, Jenny Pearson weaves together a riotous high concept caper with a moving story about family. Don't be fooled by the jolly, fun and chaotic opening because, without giving too much away, you'll be needing tissues by the end. Author of The Incredible Record Smashers and the upcoming Bertie and the Alien Chicken (to name a few), Jenny Pearson once again showcases her incredible skill at making readers howl with laughter before moving them to tears by pulling at the heartstrings in a gentle but poignant way. 

The story is full to bursting with a host of incredible characters. The Angel Gabriel is hilarious and watch out for both Grandma and Grandma the turkey. Molly provides lots of humour in her cute but annoying younger sibling role but it is the relationship between Oscar and Grandfather which I loved the most. Readers, young and old, will probably be able to relate to the ups and downs of having to spend Christmas with extended family and yet the importance of spending time with family and loved ones is the prevailing message. A great read for the whole family. 


Humbug: The Elf Who Saved Christmas by Steven Butler

Link to publisher

Published by: Scholastic, 13th October 2022

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If the nativity isn't for you and you'd prefer a story based around Santa and the elves in the North Pole, then Steven Butler has delivered just the book. In Humbug: The Elf Who Saved Christmas, it is the elves who are the star of the show, rather than the big man himself, but the action, adventure and brilliant world-building is perfect for fans of The Christmasaurus, Tinsel and The Boy Who Saved Christmas. 

The Humbug Family are not the sort of elves we see on Christmas cards, in films or in books. No, no, the Humbug family are in charge of the R.P.D department - that stands for Reindeer Poo Disposal - and are treated very poorly indeed. 

When a mince pie misunderstanding results in the Humbugs being exiled into the white, wintry wastelands, they embark on an adventure into the human world. But life 'down south' doesn't live up to the fantasy stories they've heard either, leaving the Humbugs to work out what Christmas truly means. 

Hugely funny with loveable characters, this book is full of bonkers antics which you might expect if you're familiar with Steven Butler's lower middle grade series, The Nothing To See Here Hotel. However, underneath all the raucous name-calling, caterwauling and comical capers, this original take on an elf story portrays a serious and heart-warming message. By creating a parallel between the magical world of the North Pole and the human world, Steven Butler allows readers to make the connection that the Humbugs are the keyworkers of the North Pole - overworked and not looked after. And yet, where would we be without them?

What I particularly loved about this novel is that it still gives us all the magic of the North Pole: letter deliveries, the bakehouse, flying reindeer (who need quite specific instructions) and elves but with cracks in it. The world isn't perfect, it's not sickly sweet but, in the right hands, it still has the potential to be everything we want it to be. The sentiment at the end is particularly moving and will hopefully allow readers to embrace imperfection, appreciate keyworkers and see the value in small acts of kindness. 


The Christmas Carrolls: The Christmas Competition

Link to publisher

Published by: HarperCollins, 13th October 2022

If you enjoyed our Christmas round-up last year, you'll know that it doesn't get much more Christmassy than The Christmas Carrolls and this year they're back with more fairy lights, tinsel and cards than ever because there is a Christmas competition to be won...

The Christmas Chronicle is on the hunt for the most festive family and have narrowed it down to just TWO families: The Carrolls and the Klauses. Mum and Dad are determined to check out and beat their rivals but Holly isn't so sure. Keen to spend time with her new friends, experience her first Halloween and help a miserable ice-skating penguin called Sue, she begins to wonder what's really important...

Perfect for families who start Christmas early and allow it to linger well into the New Year, this is fabulous in-your-face festive fun with a really clever plot. I loved the mix of frivolous and serious, the combination of Christmas and Halloween (Hallomas) and the double dose of animal cuteness as Reggie and Sue provide the laughs and the ahhs. 

As with most Christmas novels, there are important messages hidden under the humour. The Klauses, with their extravagent perfection, are the opposite of Christmas cheer and raise important questions about greed, generosity and goodwill. Coupled with their treatment of those who work for them, especially the penguins, I worked out very quickly which family I was rooting for. 

There's some nice touches in this second novel where we begin to see why Christmas is so important to the Carrolls. I also enjoyed Holly's story arc as she starts to move away from her parents' decisions (about how they live their life) in a bid to make her own. Will she continue to commit to Christmas 365 days of the year or will the festive fun make way for other things? 


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Seasonal Round-Up: Christmas is coming...

What The Ladybird Heard At Christmas by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks   Link to publisher Published by: Pan Macmillan, 13th October 2022 ...