Monday 4 December 2023

It's Christmas! Our seasonal round-up for 2023..

 You Can't Let An Elephant Pull Santa's Sleigh by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 12th October 2023

We always enjoy reviewing books in this series and this festive edition will ensure your Christmas gets off to a jolly start. Full of silly scenarios, rather than an actual story, it's a book that readers of all ages can enjoy together and one which will have you turning the pages in delight again...and again...and again...

An elephant pulling Santa's sleigh? Raccoons decorating your Christmas tree? And a walrus putting up your Christmas lights? Oh no, no, no, that will never do. If you want your Christmas to go smoothly, you'll need to adhere to the warnings and find some sensible alternatives. Otherwise, who knows who you'll end up kissing under the mistletoe...

Packed with hilarious illustrations by David Tazzyman, this is a book that celebrates both words and pictures. You only have to look at Santa's expression on the front cover to get a glimpse of the riotous fun in store. Plus, little ones can use the silly inspiration to create fantastic scenarios of their own. Who do they think should pull Santa's sleigh...or not?

Every page-turn builds on the last, escalating the excitement, with a lovely conclusion that pulls everything together at the end. As always with this series, the animals steal the show, making it extra appealing for younger readers. Animals + Christmas + a bit of bonkers humour = you CAN'T let this book go unread.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing us a review copy. 

There Was a Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present by Kaye Baillie and Diane Ewen

Link to publisher

Published by MacMillan, 26th October 2023

Keeping the mood light-hearted, There Was A Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present offers another dose of festive fun. Based on the well-known rhyme, There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, this is the Christmassy version - although there is also an Easter and Halloween one as well!

There was a young reindeer who swallowed a present. Did it fill them up? Obviously not because they then go on to swallow a elf, a bauble and a tree. Surely they won't swallow Santa himself..?

Nothing screams fun more than cumulative rhyme and this treat of a book has all the joyfulness of the original version. The illustrations from Diane Ewen are a delight, adding in lots of brilliant detail AND an extra layer of adorability to the narrative - just look at those reindeer's butter-wouldn't-melt eyes! There's mounting tension as the story progresses and little ones will be turning the pages faster than this reindeer can gobble things up to see how the story ends. No spoilers here though! You'll have to find out for yourselves. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan for allowing us a review copy. 

Ho, Ho, Ho! A Pirate's Christmas for Me by Red, illustrated by Jack Button
Published by: Sweet Cherry Publishing, 2023
This rhyming story is great for anyone looking for a Christmas story with a difference. How do a pair of pirates link to the concept of Christmas? You'll have to read it to find out but it's a lovely and original idea which also celebrates the love between siblings...

Nic and Kris Beard are twins who are very, very different. While Nic is naughty, Kris is nice. But when Nic's actions lead Kris to fall overboard, he gets washed up on an island of woodworking elves. Will remorseful Nic ever find his brother again and what does the future have in store for them?

Inventive, thought-provoking and full of piratey fun, the warmth of this story comes across in the gorgeous illustrations by Jack Button. The fact it's so different makes it instantly memorable and it's a perfect read for warring siblings who, underneath it all, love the bones of each other. The ending is wonderfully imaginative and plays on the idea of Saint Nick and Kris Kringle - names which little ones may have heard of but may not be so familiar with. Christmas + Pirates = A winning combination!

A big thanks to NetGalley and Sweet Cherry Publishing for allowing us a review copy. 

Gnome Alone at Christmas by Nick Pine, illustrated by Di Brookes

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 12th October 2023

If you're after a comical Christmas caper then this may be the Christmas story for you. Perfect for 5-9's, this is a simple, humorous and heartwarming story set at home. But, if you're expecting anything like the famous film, Home Alone, there are more differences than similarities, starting with Tommy the gnome. 

Noah loves Christmas more than anything. But this Christmas, his gran is poorly, his sister doesn't want to join in with anything and everything feels completely unfestive. 
So when his parents go and visit his gran on Christmas Eve, Noah takes the opportunity to make the most of things and decorate the house to cheer everyone up. But when Tommy the magical gnome appears on the scene to help, things might not go the way Noah planned... 

In some ways this feels like a cumulative story just like There Was a Young Reindeer Who Swallowed A Present. Tommy's magic keeps going wrong and the ensuing chaos goes from bad to worse. From an army of gingerbread people going on the rampage inside to a reindeer rampaging around outside, how is Noah going to put everything right before his parents come home?

Tommy and Noah are a great duo and we'd definitely love to read more adventures involving Tommy. Full of warmth as well as magical mishaps, he's the sort of help you'd love at Christmastime, even if he does make a mountain of mess...

The Ice Children by M.G. Leonard, illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee

Link to publisher

Published by: Macmillan, 2nd November 2023

If you're looking for something more wintry than Christmassy, then this icy cold story is a great alternative. Don't worry about freezing though. It might be about a magical land filled with frost and snow but there's enough love in it to keep you toasty warm.

When children are found frozen in a London park, including Bianca's own brother, no one has a clue why such a terrible thing is happening. But when they realise the children's hearts are still beating, Bianca decides that there's still a chance to save them. 

Her determination to solve the mystery takes her on a journey to a winter wonderland where some sinister characters are determined to thwart her attempts to find the truth. Can Bianca find a way to free the Ice Children without becoming one herself...

With strong echoes of The Snow Queen, this a fantasy story about sibling love but with an urgent eco message too. Grounded in the issues of today's contemporary world, it whirls fiction and fact together to create a magical yet thought-provoking adventure. The world-building is enchanting and reminded me of both Narnia and the Moomins Winter Wonderland and while some of the parallels to The Snow Queen are clear, it isn't necessary for today's generation to know the original story. 

I particularly loved the villains in this adventure. Cleverly crafted and complex, they really hooked me in. As the mystery unravels and the pieces slot together, it becomes clear that the ending is going to be slightly different to conventional fantasy tales. Yet, with more twists and turns than a ski slope, this one will keep you guessing until the very end. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan for allowing us a review copy. 

Step Father Christmas by L.D Lapinski

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 12th October 2023

If you're looking for something short, sweet and a little bit different then Step Father Christmas is a must read. Split into 25 chapters, to match the countdown to the big day, this is a concept that's so brilliant, it makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before...

Harper loves spending Christmas with her mum and brother. So when her mum announces that she's invited her new boyfriend to stay for the Christmas period, she's taken aback. She's even more taken aback when she discovers that Nick bears a striking resemblance to Santa. The more time she spends with him, the more Harper becomes convinced that he actually IS Santa. But can she prove it or will she be proven wrong?

This novel was such a joy to read that I struggled to put it down. It's has great characters, a fast-pace and the text is super accessible - never mind reading it over 25 days, my middle daughter read it in a weekend! Both of us loved the strange occurances, the Christmassy vibe and the constant musing of 'is he or isn't he Santa?'.Whatever the answer is, this is a great portrayal of family life which explores the challenges, emotions and postive elements of changing dynamics. Add in the magical elements like a random reindeer on the roof and snow in ONLY Harper's garden and you've got something really special. The extra good news is that this might be returning next year...

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing us a review copy. 

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu

Link to publisher

Published by: Farshore, 12th October 2023

If you're looking for a completely over-the-top, in-your-face, all-out Christmassy story, then the Christmas Carrolls series is a must-read. Following the success of  Book 1 and Book 2, The Christmas Club is the third novel to look out for...

Holly Carroll and her family are off to New York after winning the competition for 'Most Christmassy Family'. But when they get invited to audition for the mysterious and highly secretive Christmas Club, the family is forced to make a difficult decision: fulfil their commitment to the New York Christmas parade or chase their only chance to bring about their biggest dream ever...

For me, thanks to its brilliant characters - particularly the animal ones - this series has got more hilarious with each instalment. Riotously funny but with a serious message at it's heart, it offers at least several laughs on each page, as well as a massive dose of upbeat Christmassy cheer. 

As ever, Holly - with all her optimism and warmth - is on a mission to help others and spread as much festive love as possible. But again, she is faced with difficult questions and truths: what is Christmas really all about and is she missing the point? I really enjoyed her inner struggle and the way Holly learns from others around her. Seb and his daughter are great characters and watch out for a cameo appearance from Santa himself - adding a great fun twist to the end of the story. 

The setting of New York was perfect, enabling the story to go BIG. Reggie, Sue and gorgeous Chilli may be the shining stars of the story but The Big Apple also felt like an incredible character in itself. With the city acting as a backdrop for lots of Christmassy action, the story ramped up to a tense conclusion which celebrated both failure and success. With themes of being true to yourself, friendship, love, compassion and connection, reading The Christmas Carrolls is like stopping for a warm marshmallowy hot chocolate in the middle of a frenetic Christmas market. Oh, and watch out for the real name of Holly's mum - it's brilliant!

Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat

Link to publisher

Published by: HarperCollins, 26th October 2023

The hardback edition of this book, with its incredible cover by Chaaya Prabhat, is one of the most beautiful Christmas books I've ever held in my hands. Open the pages, however, and you'll find a gorgeously unique story told in a classic storytelling style...

It's been ten years since Santa hung up his sleigh reins and went into hiding. But when Juniper's mum goes missing, she stumbles across a mysterious man called Niko in a London park and realises that he must be the Santa that gave up on Christmas. 

Desperate and alone, Juniper takes on the task of persuading Niko to help her find her mum and protect the park from its ambitious new keeper. But it's not long before she's saving Christmas itself. Will Santa return to his duties or will the world lose the festive season forever..?

This is a beautifully complex tale, perfect for those looking for a more challenging read. Eoin Colfer takes us on a journey that follows both Juniper's story and explores what Christmas means on a human level. With lots of magical and real-life elements colliding - such as flying reindeer, magical sacks, a criminal gang and a London park housing a community of homeless people - it allows readers to consider whether the human world is better off with or without Christmas and how true magic can spread love, hope and empathy to those who need it and those who think they don't. 

There's a cracking mix of characters to discover between the pages of this book and I particularly loved both Duchess and the villains. There's adventure, humour, grief, heartbreak and hope - oh, and some elves on an urgent tracking mission across Europe. I loved the contemporary setting of London and particularly the London park and it's been wonderful to read a range of Christmassy books this year that are set in different locations to the North Pole and which focus very much of the human element of Christmas.

And we're still reading...

The Snow Girl by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon

Link to publisher

Published by: Usborne, October 2023

We're only halfway through this novel, which is a new release from one of our favourite authors, Sophie Anderson. However, from what we've read so far, this is set to become another wintry classic with stunning descriptions and a timeless feel...

When Tasha moves to her Grandpa's farm, she finds the first fall of snow incredibly special and, based on the story her grandpa has told her, she builds a snow girl. 

Desperate for a friend, Tasha wishes with all her heart that her creation will come to life and soon, she is spending the winter nights having adventures with the magical Alyana. But winter isn't going to last for ever... What will Tasha and Alyana do when spring comes? 

Based on Russian folklore, this is definitely the sort of novel you'll want to curl up with in front of the fire. Its soothing, lullaby-infused language whirls around you like snow in the air and transports you to a winter wonderland that feels both beautiful and intoxicating. Tasha is a relatable heroine who is experiencing very real fears and anxieties and yet, as we accompany her on her journey, we see her connection with both the natural world and Alyana begin to heal her. We're going to have to read on, though, to find out how the story progresses...

From what we're read so far, there's strong themes of community woven throughout the story as well as a focus on that special relationship between child and grandparent. There's also a wonderful celebration of the beauty of winter as well as the real acknowledgement of how harsh and dangerous it can also be. We are particularly loving the rural farm and woodland setting and the strong sense of wonder. 

Also recommended: 

The Christmasaurus series

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Tinsel by Sibeal Pounder

And why not look at our previous Christmas round-ups to get some further inspiration:

Round-up 2022

Round-up 2021

Our Latest Middle-Grade reads

Oof! It's been well over a month, if not two, since we last posted a review - sorry about that! But even when life gets busy (really bus...