Christmas books

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

the little reindeer who lost  his  presents~ Christmas book review

the little reindeer who lost  his  presents Front cover of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

by Jedda Robbard
Little Hare Books, Richmond (Melbourne), Sept 2017

Age group: 2 to 5 year olds
Format: 12 page board book with lift the flaps

I don’t recall how I came across this book, but it is sitting amongst my other Christmas books, and is very cute!

The story

Little reindeer is helping Santa – until he lost some of the presents that is!

My review

This book starts with the little reindeer receiving a note from Santa, asking him to deliver the presents on Christmas Eve:

Inside page of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

I like how the book shows how proud little reindeer is at being asked to help – this is certainly something that helps young children identify their feelings of pride when they get to help someone they admire. Then, little reindeer shows off a little in his excitement with sad consequences – also something young children can relate to, I’d say!

Little reindeer’s friends help him out, happily including Koala and Kangaroo joeys, which is a nice positive feel and moral for the story.

Inside page of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

It is a lift the flap book, making it less suitable for very young readers to handle themselves but lots of fun for many ages to enjoy. And Roddard’s illustrations of the animals and piles of presents are gorgeous.

Would I recommend it? Yes, this is a lovely Christmas book for younger readers – and one that can be read all year really. It has a happy story with nice messages, fun flaps to look behind, and beautiful drawings, so what’s not to love?

Santa’s Christmas charm – Christmas book review

Santa’s Christmas charm

text &  by Diane O’Hanesian
illustrations by Lee Krutop
Ice Water Press, Australia, 01 October 2012

Age group: 3 to 8 years old

Format: 24 page hardcover picture book

This is another op shop purchase I made leading up to last Christmas.

The story

Santa has lost his lucky charm and it’s Christmas Eve – how will he make all those deliveries without it?

My review

This is a cute little story about Santa leaving for this big Christmas Eve trip. Elf is trying to get Santa to hurry but Santa is distracted by wondering where he left his good luck charm that he carries every Christmas Eve.

I like that Santa is positive about each alternative thing he finds (for example making friends with a mouse instead of being disappointed it isn’t his charm!) And I think it not only makes Santa approachable by his forgetfulness but will also be something younger can relate to, having lost precious things of their own while a parent is trying to get out the door in a hurry!

The flaps on the pages are quite subtle and obviously work well with the story as children get to discover what Santa finds each time. They are just paper flaps though, so some care may be required for the littlest of readers.

A charm actually comes with the book although it was missing from our copy (hopefully the previous owner thoroughly enjoyed the charm, and may has it still as a Christmas tree decoration.)

Krutop’s illustrations match the story perfectly and include some nice details – I love Santa’s woollen coat and the expressions on Elf’s face!

Would I recommend it? This is a happy little book with flaps for interactivity and lovely illustrations. Children will love the idea of a charm so yes, I’d say it is a nice Christmas book to have.

 

Whose bum? at Christmas ~ Christmas book review

Whose bum? at Christmas Cover of whose bum at Christmas

by Heath McKenzie
Illustrated by Ada Grey
Lake Press, Melbourne, 2019

Age group: 2 to 5 year olds
Format: 14 page board book with lift the flaps

Doing some Christmas shopping recently and I came across this cheeky little book which we’re giving to our young nephew. It was first published this August so it is quite a new Christmas book.

The story

It’s a board book so not much of a story other than trying to predict who owns the bum sticking out from the flap.

My review

My nine year old read this to her brother and I last night, and we all laughed!

Sure the kids found it a little easy to guess whose bum it was on most pages, other than the names (I mean it is a bit hard to know which reindeer is which from their bum and they expected the snowman was actually Frosty).

Inner page of whose bum at Christmas showing an elf

I like that each bum is sticking out from something different, be it a fridge, a gift or a Christmas pudding! And the kids just kept giggling at the bums, of course!

Inner page of whose bum at Christmas showing a reindeer

The pages are thick and sturdy so can cope with little fingers turning and opening the flaps, but the flaps themselves are obviously not as thick as a full board book so make a judgement on the child’s ability to treat books gently, or not!

 

Would I recommend it? It’s a bit cheeky, but that’s what makes it fun! SO yes I recommend it for little people, but perhaps put it away for visitors without a sense of humour!

Santa baby ~ Christmas book review

Santa Baby Cover of Baby Santa

by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Illustrated by Ada Grey

Bloomsbury Childrens Books, United Kingdom, 2015

Age group: 2 to 5 year olds
Format: 32 page hardcover picture book

This book combines my love of books and my daughter’s obsessions with babies, so it was bound to be a favourite in our house!

The story

Santa’s young son and his young reindeer friend, Roo, are disappointed at not joining Santa on his big Christmas Eve trip.

My review

I fond the premise of this book cute – namely that Santa has a baby and Roo is a baby reindeer – presumably Rudolph‘s baby although this is not said or hinted at.

So Baby Santa is disappointed at not being old enough to go out in Santa’s sleigh and has to wave goodbye as Santa takes off with a sleigh full of gifts. It amused me that Santa sent the baby (really a young child!) to bed as you can’t get any gifts unless you get to sleep!

Inner pages of Baby Santa

They find some gifts, think Santa left them behind, so take off in their mini sleigh. After a couple of distractions (typical of a toddler or young child!), they get into trouble and {spoiler alert!} are rescued by Santa. As an adult I predicted who the left behind presents would belong to, but young readers will be surprised and amazed at the twist it gives to the story!

Inner pages of Baby SantaThe illustrations are clear and cute, the story is nicely paced and easily understood by young readers. My nine year old enjoyed reading it out loud – the only word she stumbled over was ’twas 🙂 – and loved the story itself.

 

Would I recommend it? Yes I do recommend it! Santa Baby is a lovely little story and young children will find lots they can relate to, with a bit of dreamed off excitement thrown in!

 

 

 

Christmas at Grandad’s Farm ~ Christmas book review

Cover of Christmas at Grandad's farm

Christmas at Grandad’s farm

by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Janine Dawson
Five Mile Press, Scoresby, 2013

Age group: early primary school

Format: 32 page hardcover

This book I spotted in an op shop during the year and have finally got around to reading and reviewing it! I recognised Saxby’s name from the ‘meet…’ series about famous and worth Australians.

The story

The children arrive at Grandad’s farm on Christmas Eve in preparation for the full family celebration on Christmas Day.

My review

The story starts with (and repeats occasionally as a chorus) “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way” and is written in stanzas, so I found it impossible not to sing this book – I bet you have already sung some of it yourself having reading this sentence!

I loved the traditional Australian references – swimming in the creek, cramping into Grandad’s old ute, playing cricket on Christmas Day, scoffing lunch, and everyone collapsing in a stupor on the couch afterwards!

Inside pages of Christmas at Grandad's farm

As I’ve written before, it is important for children to relate to others through books and movies etc so finding a story and song that is about sunshine and BBQs rather than snow and sleds is great for those of us in the southern hemisphere! Let’s face it, it may be good for kids but I enjoy finding things that I can relate to sometimes too!

The illustrations are detailed so there is some fun finding interesting images (eg the old tyre swing).

We got this without the CD but did not miss it, especially as the Jingle Bells tune is so well known. However, hearing the entire song sung by Rusty Berther may be a fun element to add to the book – or any time you are listening to  Christmas music of course!

Would I recommend it?’ This is a lovely book, fun and fair dinkum, and although it was new to me, it felt familiar and ‘right – rhyming and fitting the Jingle Bells tune along with the Australian references, it feels like the Christmases I grew up with.

Inside pages of Christmas at Grandad's farm

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!

 

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