Christmas books

Reviews and discussion on various books about Christmas, Santa and related celebrations.

I’m ready for Christmas ~ Christmas book review

I’m ready for Christmas cover of I'm ready for Christmas

by Jedda Robaard
Penguin Books, Australia, 2019

Age group: 1 to 4 year olds
Format: 14 page board book

Published just last month, this is a gorgeous Australian Christmas book that I found whilst looking for a gift for an almost one year old – I’m sure she’s going to love it!

The story

A young koala is enjoying the start of summer and preparing for her favourite time of year, Christmas.

My review

This is a lovely book on so many levels – it is Australian, about Christmas, is positive and is based in real life so kids can relate to it.

Our lead character is involved in fun things like decorating the Christmas tree and playing in a park, and more mundane tasks like cleaning, cooking and rearranging furniture! Young children will spot things that are happening in their own homes, which is both comforting and educational for them.

I also noted and loved that she wrote a letter to Santa, too!

koala writing a letter to Santa illustration

The pictures are much of the story of course, and are well worth spending time on. They are beautifully drawn and include lots of detail without being cluttered or overwhelming. Illustration is Robaard’s background, from learning graphic design to teaching children’s art, and it shows in this beautiful book. Inner pages of I'm ready for Christmas

Overall, the book is positive but I particularly like some of the little touches like our Koala thinking ‘about my friends and family and their favourite things too’ and making their gifts. Decorating the tree makes things look magic and the Christmas pudding recipe has been handed down through the generations.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! This is perfect for any baby or toddler, through to pre-schoolers and maybe a little older.

 

Five at the office Christmas party – Christmas book review

Five at the office Christmas party
(Enid Blyton for grown ups)

by Bruno Vincent
Quercus, UK, Oct 2017

Age group: adult book cover of Five at the office Christmas party
Format: 112 page paperback

I grew up reading the Famous Five, Secret Seven and other Enid Blyton books so it was exciting to see a Christmas book involving the Famous Five!

The story

Now grown up, the four cousins are working together for their cousin (I don’t recall him from the original books) who is potentially a bit dodgy. The four are tasked with planning the company Christmas party on a budget.

My review

So, this book is obviously not written by Enid Blyton and is not aimed at children, so there is adult content (namely alcohol and undesirable character traits) and a different feel to the original Famous Five. And it’s not a mystery. If you’re after a rehash of Blyton’s series, you will be disappointed.

I found some of the characters irritating – Dick being irresponsible and lazy was not as far form the original as Julian being whiny and unreliable, for instance. Anne was the closest to the original, trying to get the others ready for work and so forth, but still not fully recognisable.

I also found it quite  weird to have pictures form the original books in this book with a caption suiting the surrounding text – the children five images don’t fit the story!

Inner pages of the book Five at the office Christmas party

Apparently there are a few of these adult ‘Famous Five’ books, starting with Five on Brexit Island, and they are described as hilarious spoofs of the original series.

Would I recommend it? Frankly, no I can neither recommend it or find much about it to enjoy. It was very disappointing to read and not find something that respected the books so many of us enjoyed as children.

 

A Christmas homecoming – Christmas book review

A Christmas homecoming Front cover a A Christmas Homecoming

by Anne Perry
Headline Publishing Group, UK, 2011

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 224 page paperback

Following on from A Christmas Message, I was intrigued about one author having 13 Christmas books, so I grabbed another from the library to see how she does it!

The story

A theatre group preparing to perform Dracula in 1897 is interrupted by a murder…

My review

After finishing A Christmas Message, I was very unsure about how this book would be. I’m very glad to say it was more like my expectations of A Christmas Message and I enjoyed reading this book.

One thing that I had wondered about Perry writing 13 stories (based on the same characters was my initial incorrect thought) was how she managed that over time – surely there can’t be multiple mysteries solved around any particular Christmas by a single character! As it turns out, Perry’s festive series covers many years – one goes back as far as 1847 and A Christmas Message is set in 1900 – so that makes it more feasible!

I really enjoyed this book and the charterers, and it was interesting to think of Dracula as a ‘new craze’ and of dubious value and longevity! There are many reminders in this book of how things have changed, too – no phone to call for help, wood fires as the only source of warmth, no movies/TVs , less exposure to ‘scary’ effects so more sensitive to fear settings, and less general knowledge of investigations and forensics.

The key character, Caroline Fielding was also interesting. An older women (in her late 50s to 60s is my guess) who has been widowed and now remarried to a man 20 years younger and of a lower station, she has depth and experience that I liked. She is depicted as intelligent, resourceful and strong, but also a bit lonely at times so not overly perfect! Caroline’s son-in-law (present in many Perry books I gather) is policeman so she was able to preserve evidence and work on the case.

Much of the book revolves around the development of the play to be performed on Boxing Day – the murder doesn’t occur until over half way through the book! So it seems that Perry’s style is to have a story and work a mystery into it, rather than have the mystery as the key focus – different to what is common but not in a bad way.

I hadn’t realised that Bram Stoker’s Dracula centres around Dracula washing ashore near Whitby in York, but this book is set there which was an appropriate setting for their play, obviously.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I do both as an easy-to-read mystery and as an interesting reminder of how things used to be.

 

A Christmas message – Christmas book review

A Christmas message from cover of A Christmas Message

by Anne Perry
Headline Book Publishing, United Kingdom, 2017

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 176 page hard cover

Does ‘Christmas mystery’ mean a crime story set at Christmas, or a story about the unknown and Christian faith? This book has them both covered…

The story

A couple travel from Turkey to Jerusalem in 1900 and find carrying a message is more complex than it seemed.

My review

I am starting this review despite only have read a few pages as the writing style is so enticing that I already like the characters and want to know more – so a great start to this book which is set (so far anyway) just before Christmas in Jaffa, Turkey.

Actually, this is Perry’s 14th novella in her festive series! I am intrigued as to how she can write so many books all about mysteries/crimes involving Christmas so watch out for future reviews of her books to find out!

After finishing the book…

A Christmas message is set in 1900 with newly weds Victor and Vespasia travelling by train from Jaffa in Turkey to Jerusalem. Both characters have appeared in a number of Perry’s earlier books so there is a progression but I didn’t find this hindered my reading of this book.

The book starts with the couple meeting an older man and receiving from him a message to deliver to a ‘House of Bread’ in Jerusalem. There is intrigue and mystery as to who the man was, what the message is (our heroes can’t read it as it was not in a language they recognised), and how they will manage the delivery. Along they way, they meet a strange character they called Benedict and are threatened by The Watcher. All of that was interesting and somewhat as expected.

However, there is an increasing level of religious and spiritual discussion in the story as it progresses. There are pages and pages of these discussions rather than focusing on the mystery of the message – from thoughts about redemption to the star within (as distinct from the wise men following a real star to Bethlehem). It was not as expected and fits an entirely different genre to a mystery book.

It is a modern book (Perry published this in 2017) so uses contemporary writing but works in the 1900 atmosphere nicely. Even to the point that Vespasia is having these religious epiphanies but can’t mention them to her husband as ‘one doesn’t bring up such things’!

I would have liked a bit more about Jerusalem as it was and certainly more focus on the mystery (although the philosophy sections finally connected with the mystery, it was unnecessary and over the top for me).

 

Would I recommend it? Hard to say really – it is easy to read, has some interesting things in it (like the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem as that line only existed between 1891 and 1948), and I like the characters. The religious thoughts and underlying message was a bit much for me – both in it being religious but also it was based on metaphors and a deeper level of thought than the book enticed me to.
If you already know Perry’s character, I dare say this is a great read for giving them a happy ending; if you like theology and mysteries together, you will love this book; if you just want a simple mystery without the morals and religion, find another story!

 

Another little Christmas murder – Christmas book review

Another little Christmas murder

Front cover of Another Little Christmas Murder

Front cover

 

by Lorna Nicholl Morgon
Sphere, London 1947

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 256 page paperback

A mystery read with no real connection to Christmas…

The story

Therese Brown unexpectedly plays host to 8 extra people due to a blizzard on treacherous roads beside her house on the same night that her ill husband dies – but not all goes as one would expect.

My review

This story takes place over a few days in December along a deserted road in Yorkshire. At the end, two characters drive off to a family Christmas gathering. Unfortunately, that is the entire Christmas connection for this book.  Apparently, this is a publisher effect as the original version was actually called Another little murder.

Being written in 1947, the remote house is truly remote without mobile phones or even a landline, and the house doesn’t even have electric lighting to add further atmosphere. It is a simpler plot and less gruesome than many modern crime books, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of it.

The motive behind the crimes was a complete surprise, which is unusual in the crime genre, but clues and the culprits are present throughout. It is a bit ‘secret seven’ like with people bumbling around at night but that feels like the period.

It was a bit strange to have so many people turn up at Wintry Wold – why were so many people on this remote road so far into a storm? – but it kept the story moving and the plot hidden.

Would I recommend it? As a Christmas book, obviously not! And as a serious crime book with a plot to get engrossed in, no not really. As a pleasant read in front of a winter fire, yes I would so maybe you can pop it in someone’s Christmas stocking this year!

 

Dear Santa – Christmas adult book review

Dear Santacover of Dear Santa from Samuel Johnson

edited by Samuel Johnson OAM
Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2018

Age group: teen to adult
Format: 148 page paperback

A compilation of letters to Santa, written by Australian celebrities as adults.

The story

Not a story as such, but the book was thought of and executed by Samuel Johnson (unicycle rider, TV celebrity, brother who founded Love Your Sister) as a fund raiser in the fight against cancer. All of the letters have been written without the celebrities receiving any payment for their contribution to the book.

My review

Obviously this is a collection so there is a lot of variation from page to page – some letters are nostalgic, some are funny and some are a bit political (such as wanting refugee children out of detention on Nauru). There is also variation from a few lines to a few pages – either way, giving you space to read it slowly over time or easily read it as a single entity.

inside the book, Dear Santa

I found it interesting that the people I was most drawn to read were not always the letters I most enjoyed reading. A couple of letters felt like they were trying too hard – trying to be clever or impressive rather than getting into the spirit of writing to Santa (to me, that is genuine and heart felt) but the range of topics and styles was interesting and thought provoking, too.

It is nice to have it adult centric – I mean, it could have been letters of what they imagined they wrote as children, or some other child centric model.

Celebrities included…

There are 68 letters to Santa in the book, written by a range of Australians, including:

  • Gus Luenig, artist
  • Shane Jacobson, Chief Scout (Vic), actor
  • Deborah Mailman, actor
  • Leigh Sales, ABC presenter
  • Rove McManus, TV personality
  • Hildegrad Hinton, prison guard
  • Stuart Coupe, band manager of old, broadcaster
  • Paris Mitchell, public speaker
  • Helen Garner, writer
  • Ian Smith, political lobbyist, married to Natasha Stott Despojer
  • Peter FitzSimmons, ex rugby player, presenter

Would I recommend it? How can I not? Raising money to fight cancer is such a worthy cause – cancer causes so much pain and suffering. Add in it is about letters to Santa and it has my vote!

But seriously, it is an interesting book and has some letters well worth reading. Sure, some of the letters I didn’t like much and others didn’t add a lot of value, but overall the letters are good. It is an easy read given you can read just a page or two at a sitting, so I think it makes a great Christmas gift.

 

The Nutcracker (book & puzzle) – review

The NutcrackerSmiling boy holding the Nutcracker book

by E T A Hoffman, retold by Rachel Elliot
illustrated by Valeria Docampo
Paragon, Bath, 2017

Age group: around 4 or 5 and older
Format: 24 page book ad 36 piece puzzle

A classic Christmas story (one even done in the Myer windows!), this version of The Nutcracker includes a jigsaw puzzle for young children with the book.

The story

A girl, Marie Stahlbaum, is given a wooden nutcracker on Christmas Eve. The nutcracker comes to life and fights an army of mice then takes Marie to the Land of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and other dolls.

Some history of the Nutcracker

Hoffman originally released The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in 1816, and the full story takes longer than one night.

The story has been retold and presented in many ways in the last 202 years. Alexandre Dumas retold it as The Nutcracker which became the basis of Tchaikovsky’s ballet by the same name in 1892. It has been made into a few movies and telemovies, including Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and Care Bare versions.

Parts of the music from the ballet are also well known and used in movies such as Disney’s Fantasia, the 1950’s marionette TV film The Spirit of Christmas, and the 1954 Little Match Girl movie. There have also been recordings, video games and TV shows made with parts of the story and/or music of The Nutcracker

Some versions are only loosely connected to the original story, and there are variations in the character names – Marie Stahlbaum has had different surnames and also been called Clara (the name of Marie’s doll in the original book).

A 1996 musical, The Nutcracker Musical, goes further into why Franz became a nutcracker and how Clara could help change him back – note that Franz was her brother in the original story. A light opera, this musical includes the full 12 days of Christmas as well!

My review

So, onto this book version of The Nutcracker!

I love the illustrations – they are beautiful and a combination of real and whimsical. The colours are muted to give atmosphere rather than standing out as a child’s counting or colour book.

collection of pages from The Nutcracker book

The story is about Clara, starting when she received the nutcracker on Christmas Eve from her godfather, the best toy maker in town. Her brother fights her over the nutcracker, and the nutcracker’s leg is broken. The toy maker repairs him and she promises to always keep him safe. After the Christmas Eve ball she remembers she left him under the tree.

Clara goes downstairs to get him and when she approaches the tree the magic occurs and she shrinks. She sees the mouse king, then the nutcracker and toy soldiers come to life to battle the mouse king. When the nutcracker is surrounded she throws her shoe at the mouse king to save the nutcracker. The nutcracker wins and then takes Clara to his kingdom which is the land of sweets. As she watches the sugar plum fairy dance, she gets sleepy and wakes up back home under the tree on Christmas morning.

While it is a long story and a reasonable bit of text, our three year old friend was enchanted by it – and now is desperate to see the ballet!

The puzzle was challenging for a three year old, but he achieved it… The pieces were a good size for his little hands and easily fit together. Overall it was a good activity for a pre-schooler, especially as the book gave context to the image on the jigsaw.

Young boy putting together the Nutcracker puzzle

Would we recommend it? I would recommend it – the illustrations were beautiful and captivating just as The Nutcracker should be, blending dreams into reality.

And our three year old friend still wants to dance with a Nutcracker so it obviously impressed him!

 

Christmas countdown – day five

Following on from finding Tinkles on the footy, today’s calendars aren’t really every Christmassy – at least not for those of us living in Australia without penguins and snow in December!

Ornament calendar

The picture today is a cute penguin giving her baby penguin a Christmas gift, and the ornament itself is a penguin!

Cardboard penguin hanging on a Christmas tree

Lego City

My son built the sled easily enough, but we’re not sure of the white pieces alongside it – I think it is meant to be a snow covered ramp but it is too small for the sled to run down so an not sure of the ramp’s purpose! Maybe someone better used to snow and sleds will know…

Lego sled and ramp

Lego Friends

My daughter put together the snowman ornament tonight. The nose is cute and a bit soft and bendy! But overall this is not the best looking Lego snowman – we saw better ones in the 2017 City calendar, the 2015 Friends calendar, the 2016 Friends calendar and my favourite is probably the 2015 City snowman or maybe the 2017 Friends snowman from Christmas Eve.

By the way, like the press out advent calendar, these ornaments do not come with the means to actually hang them so, if using this calendar, you will need to get some string or ribbon to hang the ornaments – we’re still working on where we’ll will hang them…

Lego snowman ornament

Christmas book

Peppa’s Christmas Post is our Christmas book for tonight so we can talk about letters and helping our families when they need it.

Wrapping up for Christmas – Christmas book review

Wrapping up for Christmas the two story pages of the advent calendar

illustrated by Livia Coloji
models & design by Picnic
Hinkler Books, Heatherton, 2018

Age group: 4 to 10 year olds
Format: 2 pages in an advent calendar

 

This is an unusual way to access a Christmas book, but perfectly sensible! Our press out decoration advent calendar is a fold out booklet of eight pages – two pages become the covers of the book and four pages hold the advent calendar itself, while the other two pages tell a story.Press out decoration advent calendar covers

The story

A helpful elf, Merrit, adds a last minute gift to the sleigh but soon afterwards wonders why Santa is back so soon…

My review

I think the story is cute – Merrit wants a new born baby to get a rattle but the workshop is out of paper and she uses some pretty paper with swirly writing on it. Sure, it seems unlikely that Santa’s workshop would be out of wrapping paper, but we all have those Christmas Eve rushes!

Luckily, Merrit wakes when she hears Santa come back early and is able to help solve his problem of a missing nice girls and boys list.

The story has four images – which is a lot given it it a two page book – and they are all colourful and related to the story. If you look at the advent press outs, you can also see that the decorations work with Wrapping up for Christmas.

Yes, as a book it seems very short having only two pages, but there is plenty of content (this is not a two or three sentences a page picture book after all) and I didn’t feel the story was too short or rushed. And remember that this is part of a set – story, advent calendar and decorations all rolled into one package.

Would I recommend it? I enjoyed the story and illustrations so yes I think it is worth reading, but it is not much of a book – remember it is part of an advent calendar (and I thoroughly recommend the entire set) rather than a stand alone book!

 

Dear Santa – Christmas book review

front cover of Dear SantaDear Santa

by Rod Campbell

Macmillan Children’s books, London, 2004

Age group: 2-4 years

Format: small, soft cover

From the creator of Dear Zoo and It’s mine comes a lift-the-flap Christmas story.

The story

Santa tries to find the perfect gift for our narrator, going through a few ideas first.

inside pages of Dear Santas

My review

Obviously there is a simple plot, being a board book, but there is a happy ending and it all works together nicely!

Dear Santa - more than just a cute lift-the-flap bookClick To Tweet

This book has opportunities for children to learn adjectives, such as small and messy, use fine motor skills to open flaps and relate to the story through items they may have or want. I like that it also opens up conversations about what a child wants for Christmas (just as a conversation or maybe as a catalyst in writing a letter to Santa) and a discussion on choosing gifts for others – it is about what they really would appreciate, not what you would like, and that is an important lesson in empathy and emotional intelligence for children.

Close view of pop up window inside Dear Santa

Pop up window inside Dear Santa

The pictures are clear and colourful, and the book is well made so the flaps should last many openings by little fingers (the card is thick enough they won’t accidentally rip them the first time the book is read, and possibly not even deliberately).

 

I like that Santa is shown as working hard to find the perfect gift – caring for others takes effort – and am amused that even Santa is finishing his Christmas gifts and wrapping at the last minute! You could say there is a message to kids about not leaving things to the last minute, but I think it is there to relate things to Christmas more directly and to give adults a laugh as they read and reread this book to toddlers!

So do I recommend it? Absolutely! This is a beautiful, interactive and fun book for toddlers – and those of us a bit older as well!

 

 

A very pirate Christmas – Christmas book review

Cover of the Very Pirate Christmas

A very pirate Christmas

by Timothy Knapman
illustrated by Russell Ayto

Egmont, UK Ltd, United Kingdom, 2015

Age group: 2 to 5 years old

Format: 32 page softcover picture book

Pirates is not usually something I associate with Christmas, but this book puts the two together with humour, rhyme and action.

The story

A crew of scurvy pirates, savage as a stormy sea, did a dreadful thing – they tied poor Father Christmas up and went to get some loot.

My review

My 9 year old read this to me and we both enjoyed it. The story moves along at a nice pace, with rhymes and colourful pictures.

While Santa and the children in the book are definitely humans, the illustrations show the pirates as robots – this is not part of the text so maybe it is just quirky or maybe it makes the book less scary for youngsters worrying about pirates hurting Santa.

I liked that it took the pirates a while to get the hang of flying the sleigh 🙂 But once they did, they stole every Christmas thing and took it back to their pirate ship (luckily it didn’t sink the ship!) for a grand old party.

Shhh, Pip the cabin boy saves the day, freeing Santa and allowing Christmas to be returned to the children of the world before they woke on Christmas morning – so there is a happy ending. The pirates had to return everything – I like that they fixed their own mistake effectively rather than being punished, giving a positive message.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely – A very pirate Christmas is a fun read, Christmassy and gives positive messages. It is a bit different to your average Christmas book and may therefore have more appeal to some adventurous children or those who are a little bored of the same ideas repeated.

Inner pages of a Very Pirate Christmas

Last Christmas – Christmas book review

Last Christmasbook cover of Last Christmas

by Julia Williams

Avon (Harper Collins), London 2009

Age group:

mid-teen to adult

Format:

380 page paperback

Another spur of the moment purchase of a Christmas book, this perhaps not a book I would normally choose.

The story

Four people and those around them look for happiness and peace, while a country town struggles against nature and developers.

My review

I gave you my heart … you gave it away… to save me from tears … someone special

With the parts of the book given those titles, it inspires hearing the Wham song “Last Christmas” throughout this book! The message of the song does fit with the story, but it is a small connection and Wham is mentioned only once so don’t let your opinion of the music influence your decision about reading this book!

Anyway, this is a fairly light read about the lives and relationships of four main characters. I must say it was fairly predictable in terms of outcomes but the journey to reach those outcomes took a few unexpected turns. It is not just a romance book as it covers issues such as mental illness, Alzheimer’s and gratitude along with modern life stresses.

The town where some of the characters live and others are involved through work is called Hope Christmas, and this seemed to be the main link to a Christmas story for a fair chunk of the book. However, the spirit of Christmas and generosity moves throughout and it does build towards the Christmas season and the town’s Christmas performance of the nativity story.

A few things I didn’t like were missing details – for example, one child plays an important part but we are never given his age and I found it difficult to understand his comprehension of events thinking he was a pre-schooler but later discovered he attends school – and some jumps in time – headed by ‘this year’ and ‘last year’ to continue the Wham theme, but seemingly of no value to have things out of order. Sometimes, jumping in time builds suspense or gives a broader context to the characters, but in this instance I found it annoying to read of ‘after what happened last Christmas’ without knowing what had happened, and then finally knowing what had happened and finding ‘it’ fairly mundane.

One of my favourite characters, old Ralph Nicholas, is positive and reassuring, but not present in much of the story. The final twist with him is sweet but perhaps pushing the boundaries of the genre for this book.

So do I recommend it? As a nice book to be read at any time of the year, it is worth the effort of finding it. In the lead up to Christmas, it may serve as a good reminder to concentrate on the important elements of Christmas – a perfect meal or the biggest gift is not what we should be focussing on.
It is a Christmas story, and Williams had a number of other Christmas books if you want a few adult Christmas stories to curl up in front of a fire with, or to give as  Christmas gifts.

Cover tiny file
look inside
Last Christmas – SoundTrax CD (CD only)
Composed by George Michael. Arranged by Greg Gilpin. This edition: SoundTrax CD. CD. Alfred Pop Series. Christmas; Pop; Secular; TV; Winter. Published by Alfred Music (AP.35732).

PS If, like me, you have never heard of a nativity mystery play let me tell you that a mystery play is an old term referring to plays that show a biblical story in a church as a tableaux with accompanying songs. In this instance, mystery is used in the meaning of miracle.

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