Christmas books

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

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

Puzzle box of Santa comes to Victoria
It is very exciting to find personalised things, so books about Australia (and more specific areas I know) always catch my eye and make me smile. And I know my kids love seeing Aussie Christmas stories and images.

I have previously reviewed the books Santa is coming to Australia and Santa is coming to Melbourne, but now here is a jigsaw puzzle based on the Santa is Coming to Victoria book of the same series.

 

 

 

 

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

The puzzle comes in a sturdy box with a handle so you can store it fairly easily, which is always handy.

It has big pieces which are also sturdy and made of thick card, so it will survive many uses and the curiosity of little hands.

I had a lovely surprise upon opening the box and finding a miniature version of the book in the box as well (ok, it is written on the box but I hadn’t remembered that!). So we read the story before attempting the puzzle which helped bring the picture alive even more.

Puzzle pieces and the mini book

Putting the puzzle together

Although I expected it was too young for him, I did with the puzzle with my nine year old to see how it went, and whether it was suitable to give to a two year old. We did it fairly quickly but he made some mistakes in the side pieces so it’s not overly simple.

Edges of puzzle all in place

I’ve taught my children to do the edges first in big puzzles

It is harder because the image is a collage of Victorian landmarks so the top of a building, for example, may not be at the top of the completed puzzle.

My son absolutely loved spotting places he knows. And I enjoyed being able to name the places as we put the puzzle together, too.

completed Santa is coming to Victoria puzzle

Overall, this puzzle is probably best for 3.5 and up, but still fun for 8-9 year olds. It will excite Victorian children, and I daresay the equivalent puzzles for the other states and cities are similar in style so they can have their local excitement, too! It is also a nice gift for someone travelling to Victoria now or next year (a good preparation to do the puzzle ahead of arriving!)

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa – Christmas book review

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa Book cover of Why Dogs don't bark at Santa

by Greg Ray
illustrated by Jenny Miller
designed by Holly Webber
Why Dogs, Tasmania, 2017

Age group: preschool to 10 years, adult dog lovers

Format: hard cover, 26 pages

 

A friend travelling in Tassie discovered this book for her grandson, and lent it to me.

The story

Santa and Rudolph are heroes to dogs everywhere, and this story explains why…

My review

I was surprised at enjoying this book more than I expected to. Jenny Miller has created some beautiful watercolour images for the story that merge into the white space used for the text. It starts with a dog not reacting to reindeer outside the window and Santa’s feet arriving in the fireplace.

The text itself consists of rhymes throughout which is fun for younger listeners, and for the reader!

Why Doges don't bark at Santa inner pages

Santa and Rudolph in the snow

Through a snowy storm, Santa doesn’t give up on searching for a group of lost puppies so the book showcases Santa as generous and caring, as we expect him to be.

This is the latest in series of Why Dogs books which are all self-published in Tasmania. I haven’t read any others, nor seen them, but they are described as a tongue in check collection of stories about the characteristics and eccentricities of our canine companions.

My seven and nine year olds enjoyed this story, as did a friend’s two year old dog-loving son.

Christmas treasure hunt – Christmas book review

Christmas treasure hunt Christmas treasure hunt book review

by Sarah Powell
designed by Emma Jennings
St Martin’s Press, London, 2014

Age group: preschoolers

Size/format: board book

A cheerful looking baby book full of Christmas images that we gave to a young friend last Christmas.

The story

A search and find book for babies and toddlers. There’s no story as such!

My review

This is a very cute book, enjoyed by adults and loved by the one year old we gave it to. Not surprisingly, it is very simple given the age group.

Santa page within the Christmas Treasure Hunt

There are seven sets of images (such as Santa and some Christmas stockings) where one image is a little different to the others. There is also a teddy bear ‘hidden’ on each page.

It is a lovely first book, and could be read throughout the year, not just at Christmas time.

 

Peppa’s Christmas Post – Christmas book review

Peppa’s Christmas Post

Ladybird, United Kingdom, 28 September 2016Cover of the book Peppa's Christmas Post

Age group:

pre-school

Size/format:

hard cover, 48 pages with 6 envelopes and surprises

Looking like the Jolly Postman books, I couldn’t resist getting this as a Christmas gift for a young friend…

The story

Mummy and Daddy Pig have to stay in bed, so Peppa and George prepare for Christmas with their Grandparents.

My review

I suspect that any Peppa lovers will adore this Christmas book!

While toddlers may be the prime target for Peppa, this book is not a board book and could easily be damaged by eager little hands. It also has a fair bit of text on each page so may be too long to be read fully to younger children. Inner pages of Peppa's Christmas Post

Peppa and George have fun with Granny and Grandpa Pig as they bake, decorate, make and write. Each page is followed by an envelope containing something special and no only relevant to the story, but sometimes telling part of the story. The book is bright and colourful, showing genuine Pig family characters and a happy Santa Claus.

Everything is wrapped up nicely at the end of the book, with the children being acknowledged for their help and reminded to write thank you letters to Santa as he loves getting mail.

I am a little torn about the interactive parts of this book. A couple of them are not just letters to read, but once you make use of them, they are no longer part of the book. For instance, a page of cut out decorations is cute but once you have separated them and hang them up will they ever get back into the book? And a blank template for writing to Santa is lovely but only can be used once! So they are fun but limited uses. post coming out of an envelope in teh book Peppa's Christmas Post

My favourite part is Peppa being so excited about getting a personalised letter from Santa?

Santa’s husband – Christmas book review

Santa’s husbandCover of book Santa's husband

by Daniel Kibblesmith
illustrated by AP Quach
Harper Design, New York, 2017

Age group:

3 or 4 years and up, but read the review first!

Newly released, this is a different take on the Santa story!

The story

Described as the true story of Mr and Mr Claus, this book tells about the real Santa and how is helped by his husband.

My review

I loved this book, but am aware that others may not like the content and I strongly recommend reading it before sharing it with children (so you are prepared for any questions that may arise).

Ready for the shock? In this book, Santa is both black and gay. The Santa we are used to seeing is actually Santa’s white husband, named David. Personally, I have no issues with either coloured skin or gays so this didn’t bother me – but if it does bother you, this book will challenge you.
Inside peak at Santa's husband

For younger children, it can just be another version of Santa. For children a bit older, it can also be a catalyst for some interesting and important conversations (gay marriage, racism, dietary restrictions, differences between Santa images and why people get angry about such things). For adults, it is surprising, refreshing and funny!

There is some humour included which makes it fun for adults without being inappropriate for younger readers, such as keeping each other cosy in winter and sooty footprints all over the floor annoying Santa!

Quach has drawn some colourful and engaging pictures of Santa and his husband, and the writing itself is well done.

Overall, the book has a number of positive messages – primarily, acceptance of differences (“Who is anyone to say what the real Santa looks like?”) but also the concepts of working together and making up after disagreements.

I think this is a fantastic Christmas book that should be in every home.

Happy Christmas Spot – Christmas book review

Happy Christmas Spot Cover of book Happy CHristmas Spot

by Eric Hill
Penguin Books, London, 2011

Age group:  toddler to pre-primary school

Spot the dog is a well-known character for many young children, so sharing a Christmas story with him will be enjoyed by many.

The story

This is a fun little board book where Spot and his friends share presents with each other.

My review

In Hill’s usual style, the story is easy for young children to follow while the ‘lift the page’ intrigues slightly older children as well.

The book offers great opportunities for discussing the book – guessing gifts by shapes, counting ornaments and snowflakes, and naming colours.

Definitely a Christmas book worth considering for toddlers and pre-schoolers, although it is very focussed on winter activities. My three and five year olds have enjoyed reading it while we had it from the library.

Angry Birds wreck the halls – Christmas book review

Wreck the halls (Angry Birdscover of the Angry Birds book, wreck the halls

by Tomi Kontio
translated by Owen Whitesman
graphics by Terhi Haikonen
Puffin Books,  London, 2013

Age group: early to mid primary school (6-9 year olds)

Size/format: small, soft cover

I spotted this in an op shop recently and thought it was a bit different to the typical Christmas book. I believe it was originally part of a box set with a toy but I only got the book.

The story

A sack of Christmas presents is taken by three pigs and chased by two birds, Bomb and Red.

My review

This the first Angry Birds book I have read, and I know little about them. I was surprised to find a varied and interesting vocabulary (I wasn’t expecting to see words like smouldering, careened and precipice) and interesting descriptions (like majestic mountains, slanting rays of sun glimmering and gleaming pearls of ice).inner pages of Wreck the Halls

The story itself was good – the birds on skis chasing the pigs in a frying pan sled had excitement and anticipation. The birds speak respectfully and care for each other, and any anger is justified. It is a bit strange when Bomb explodes with expected repercussions, and comes away unscathed but I suspect that is something Angry Birds fans would understand and expect!

The pictures are ok, but I found a couple of them unclear. There is a reasonable amount of text on each page (it is not a picture book or aimed at early readers) and the font is rather small. The book is actually created based on an Angry Birds episode of the same name which was produced for Christmas 2011.

My children have played Angry Birds a couple of times (my sole previous knowledge of angry birds is based on those games!) My eight year old has more prior interest in the Angry Birds and he really enjoyed this book (“My favourite part was when Bomb exploded”); my seven year old was less excited but still enjoyed hearing the story.

That’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey – Christmas book review

Cover of That's good, that's bad Christmas bookThat’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey

by Margery Cuyler
illustrated by Michael Garland
Square Fish, New York, 2009

Age group: preschool to mid primary school

I heard of this book as being written to show children that bad things can change into good so I wanted to read it with my own children.

The story

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa heads off to deliver presents around the world but is hampered by bad weather, impatient reindeer and his own clumsiness.

A fun Christmas book that presents Santa in a relatable way.

My review

image of Santa falling from That's good, that's bad book

That’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey looked like fun and presents Santa is a relatable way for children, which was a good start.

This is  a beautiful book, and a decent size, too (a little taller than an A4 landscape page). Garland has done a fantastic job illustrating this book – the pictures are detailed and colourful and cover entire pages. I love the expressions on faces throughout the book.

It is a fun story – I’d never heard of the reindeer being impatient and taking off without Santa before he came back up the chimney! And when Santa tripped over, the popping eyes and flying false teeth made me laugh out loud!

However, I really don’t understand the good/bad aspects of the book. On each page, something happens and is followed by ‘that’s good! No that’s bad!’ or ‘that’s bad! No, that’s good!” To me, in every instance, the first comment is correct – for instance the storm easing is good and the Santa falling out of the sleigh is bad – so I don’t see the point in the second comment. And there is no explanation on the next page about the change of good to bad (or vice versa).

I guess you can use the good/bad switch to start some conversations with children but it would have to be a deliberate act as the book doesn’t naturally lead that way. However, my eight year old immediately looked for reasons to swap good to bad (eg Santa fell into a pile of snow and wasn’t hurt) so there obviously is merit in this technique!

When we got to the last page, my seven year old said “Oh, no! Why does it have to be so short – I want lots more pages” and that says it all, doesn’t it?!

Santa Koala – Christmas book review

Santa KoalaBook cover for "Santa Koala"

by Colin Buchanan
illustrated by Glen Singleton
Scholastic Australia, 2010

Age group: early to mid- primary school

A koala helping Santa is a story line I find intriguing, and add in the caption “the official Waltzing Matilda” Christmas anthem and I couldn’t resist trying this picture book!

The storyCD from Santa Koala book

Santa fell asleep in the Aussie bush so a friendly Koala plans to save the day, but not everything goes to plan. This story is done to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, and the CD comes with the book.

My review

I sang this to my six and eight year olds tonight and we all enjoyed it, and I loved hearing their surprised laughter at the twist on the last page.

It’s a fun story about the bush animals taking over delivering gifts off Santa’s list while Santa had a nap by a billabong. We see an echidna, emu, goanna, platypus, wombat and bandicoot and six boomers  (pulling the sleigh of course!)

Not surprisingly, there are numerous Aussie references, like lamingtons, Tassie, the back of Bourke, a mad cockatoo and boiling up a billycan.Inner pages from Santa Koala

My six year old was keen to read the book herself, and my eight year old managed to sing along with me by reading the pages. And the pictures are lively and cheerful, so I’d say it’s a book worth adding to a Christmas collection.

The included CD has an instrumental version of Santa Koala as well as the full song to sing along to.

The magic little Christmas tree – Christmas book review

Book cover for The magic Little Christmas TreeThe magic little Christmas tree

North Parade Publishing, Bath, 2010

Age group: preschool

A colourful Christmas story about friendship that perhaps offers more than it delivers.

The story

Some cute animals make friends with a little fir tree on Christmas Eve and he rewards them with some magic.

My review

Inside of The magic little Christmas tree bookThis is a cute little book, and the unusual shape makes it fun. It feels like it is a baby book because the pages are so think but it isn’t a board book as such and I could see the pages lifting off the plastic if a very young child had hold of it for too long.

I love the pictures – they are cheerful and cute, and match the story beautifully. Unfortunately, no illustrator (or author for that matter) is listed on the book.

There are only five pages of text, so it is not a long story, but probably should be longer as it skims over a lot of details – I think it would be great as a longer picture book instead of being like a toddler book. The story itself is too involved for a baby or young toddler, unless the reader makes it more interactive and interesting anyway.

It is nice that the animals finish a job (although the implication is the path must be clear for Santa and friends to arrive!) before playing, and that the animals are friendly and inclusive. Giving a tree a voice and the ability to generate presents felt a little far-fetched to me, but it is a feel good ending.

Is your Santa black?

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet at Sinterklaas

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet celebrating Sinterklaas

With the exception of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter – Saint Nicholas’ companion in Holland), nearly all images of Christmas characters are white.

While I think it is ok to have a specific character be any particular colour/race/religion, there is no need for ALL characters to be one ‘type’ of person. It’s a bit like the old goodies in white hats and baddies in black hats – lots of good people actually prefer to wear black, and there are now stories of good witches and ninjas etc wearing black.

So is Santa black? Given he keeps himself hidden at the North Pole and comes into our homes when we are asleep, who knows what he really looks like? For all we know, he has purple skin and green hair!!

Teaching multiple stories.

I have just read an article by Peggy Albers about the impact of telling a single story. Called ‘Why is Santa black?’ the article explains that having a single story leads us to have a single perspective on things and can lead to narrow thinking.

Peggy suggests we read some stories from a different perspective and stories that show certain groups in different ways.

For example, I once read a version of Snow White told from the step- mother’s perspective. It told of her concerns about the teenager dropping rubbish everywhere (like a trail in the woods!), needing to be tricked into eating healthy food (like apples) and her relationship with the woodsman before running away. It was fun but children hearing that may get to understand that there is always another perspective, another side to the story – and that is certainly a valuable lesson to learn.

Peggy gives examples of Jewish characters being portrayed as poor, living with tension or fearful  of supernatural forces. The main reading I have done with Jewish characters have been set in or around World War 2 (so yes they were living with tension) or dealing with expectations based on deceased relatives (so supernatural forces) – so my own experience agrees with Peggy’s research. However, I also have some life experiences (and heard many other stereotypes) so have a broader perspective of Jews – but I can see how books give a limited view.

array of children's Christmas books

There are many books with Santa – mostly white and human, sometimes an animal.

I intend now to get and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas: An African American version* to broaden my Christmas story – and am glad I have read (and reviewed) some revised versions of Christmas stories such as:

Interestingly, there is a lot of debate about Zwarte Piet – many say he is racist and based on a book written in the 1850s while others say his origins are much older and relate to traditional European Santas having a black assistant who was invisible in the darkness and travelled through chimneys (so was covered in black soot). Accepting the book version of Zwarte Piet gives a different perspective of the character, whereas the historical version has more depth and fewer racist overtones – again, a single story impacts on the perceptions.

Does Santa’s colour matter?

The real symbols of Santa are a red suit, big belly and a white beard.

Yes, most images of Santa do have him as white but I don’t think that has to be the case (and will consciously use some other skin tones from here on myself).

And life is certainly more interesting when we have a variety of stories and cultures, so I’m all for some different Christmas and Santa stories (and there are a few around!)

So, what colour skin does Santa have in your mind? Other than it currently being unusual, would you have an issue with Santa being African or Asian in appearance?

 

* So far, I haven’t had much luck finding this book. It was written and illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, and published in October 1996.

Deck the halls – Christmas book review

Deck the halls

by Mary Higgins and Carol Higgins Clark

cover image of "Deck the Halls' by Higgins & Clark

An adult Christmas mystery book

published by Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster), New York, 2000

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Most Christmas books, and certainly the majority of the books we review at Love Santa, are aimed at children but I came across this one and thought it would be fun to review it.

Described as mother “Queen of suspense” and daughter “bestselling author” working together for the first time to “create an exciting and entertaining suspense novel”, I expected to enjoy the story.

The story

In the days before Christmas, private investigator Regan rushes across country to be with her injured mystery-writer mother, just in time for her father and a young mother to be kidnapped. Regan and new acquaintance amateur-detective Alvirah helped the police look the kidnappers and rescue the victims.

Regan and Alviarah are characters in their own series of books, one written by Mary and one by Carol.

My review

Let me start by stating I love reading crime stories and some of my favourite authors are Jo Nesbo, Kathy Reichs, Jonathon Kellerman, Ian Rankin, J D Robb and Kerry Greenwood, so I anticipated a good read blending crime and Christmas!

There are light crime stories and others are more complex and deeper, and Deck the Halls certainly falls into the lighter category.

I found the writing to be very basic and superficial, with obvious points explained as if the reader is not very bright. It did improve as the book progressed so either I got used to it or the writers collaborated better as they went along.

It is suitable for teens as there is no real violence or frightening elements, nor other adult content. And the simplicity of the story would work better for younger teens, perhaps than adults like me.

The Christmas element of the book was low – just the proximity to Christmas Day and one character working as Santa in a department store.

Apparently there are some other Christmas books written by this duo but I won’t be rushing out to find any of them.

So I did finish the book and didn’t hate it, but I can’t truly recommend it for serious crime readers or those who appreciate good writing.

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