Christmas books

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

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.

Can Doctor Proctor save Christmas? – Christmas book review

Love Santa book reviews - a collage of covers

Can Doctor Proctor save Christmas?

book cover of Doctor Proctor save Christmasby Jo Nesbo
illustrated by Mike Lowery

Simon & Schuster Childrens Books, UK, Nov 2017

It is has recently (2 October 2018!) been released by Aladdin paperbacks as Silent (but deadly) night with more illustrations by Mike Lowery

Age group: 7 to 12 years old

Format: 24 page paperback

 

My family loves Jo Nesbo books – I read his crime books and my children laugh at his Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder series! So we were very pleased to find this Christmas Doctor Proctor book was released last year…

The story

The King of Norway sells Christmas to Mr Thrane, who bans Christmas from everyone unless they spent lots of money in his stores. Nilly, Lisa and Doctor Proctor want to save Christmas…

My review

Farts, inventions, school bullies, Santa, flying reindeer, annoying robots, secret passwords – how can any child resist this book?

Forth in the Doctor Proctor series, this book is well written, funny and entertaining – and my kids enjoyed it too! It is a kids’ book so it is easy enough to follow without reading the other books, although the characters will be more familiar and the background clearer if they are all read in order – it is sometime since I read the first book with my kids so I had forgotten most character names and had no memory of Juliette Margarine, but I had no trouble reading the book and understanding everything.

inside apges can Dr Proctor save Christmas (start of chapter)

Each chapter tells you when it is set

You may be wondering about the series connection and, if you don’t have a flying sleigh, how can you possibly get onto roofs to climb down chimneys? Well, you use Doctor Proctor’s fart powder of course! Simply take a spoon full then use the fart to propel yourself onto the roof and off you go, delivering gifts! This, of course, is a hilarious highlight of the book for youngsters.

One word of warning – there is a lot of ‘do you believe in Santa’ content in the first third of this book. It clearly implies that older children and adults don’t believe, and that Norwegian fathers usually play the role of Santa on Christmas Eve, so this may raise questions in young readers. The book follows through with Doctor Proctor saying “I don’t believe Santa exists – I know he does” and then we meet Santa in the story – but not entirely the happy, red clad Santa we usually know and love. As an adult, this is not a problem but just be careful of what children are ready for when giving them this book.

inside apges can Dr Proctor save Christmas

There are a few whole page illustrations throughout the book

The story moves along nicely – there is danger, adventure and surprise, but never any dull sections I felt like skimming over. And, despite being a kids book, it never felt predictable as you wondered what would happen next. There are a number of mentions of Australia – the reindeer are hidden down under, we have strange animals and we may have BBQd a Christmas icon…

There are some Norwegian traditions mentioned along the way, such are rice pudding, gnomes, leaving rice pudding in a barn, and calling the 23rd of December Little Christmas Eve. I enjoyed learning about these traditions, too, especially in a fun way. Christmas Eve is the big day in Norway – Christmas Day is quieter and somewhat private.

I do like the acknowledgement of nice children (and reference to Santa’s nice-meter) and a scene where Doctor Proctor helps the children build a positive mindset. Doctor Proctor tells the children to remember and delight in old adventures and remember that everything is a new adventure that could turn into something wonderful. They also have a conversation where Lisa comes to realise the real Christmas gifts she has (like keeping her nice home and friends). It is done in the context so it didn’t feel like moralising either.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! It is a lot of fun, has a good dose of Christmas spirit and enough depth to be interesting to all age groups. Just remember my earlier warning and that (spoiler alert, sorry!) Santa has a number of children without there being a Mrs Claus in this story – decide if these are an issue for your children, but otherwise they will love this book!

A proper family Christmas – Christmas book review

A proper family Christmas

Front cover of A proper family Christmas

 

by Chrissie Manby

Hodder and Straughton, London 2014

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 448 page paperback

A nice family story that climaxes at a Christmas unlike what anyone expected.

The story

Sophisticated Annabel and Richard face emotional upheavals from their daughter’s mistake at a music festival.

My review

Annabel likes things to be perfect and stylish, right down to owning a fancy manor house she can show off to locals at an annual fete. However, her life is turned upside down when her sixteen year old daughter Izzy goes to a music festival and makes a huge mistake.

This book has both a mix of characters and contemporary issues which makes it interesting and more complex than just a simple assessment of life for rich and not-so-rich.

Personally, I didn’t grow to like one of Annabel’s sisters although various characters see her as the generous one, but she does help keep the story real and not so saccharine sweet as happens in some books. However, Chelsea and the two teen girls, plus the mischievous jack, I certainly liked and empathised with as I read the book.

The story deals with honesty and shame through {spoiler alert coming up!} adoptions, drug taking, transplant waiting lists, bulimia, single parenting and dementia, to more or less significance. The author has researched the medical elements for the transplant issue and used her own adoption history to ensure the story is based in reality.

Like other adult books with a Christmas title, this is not really about Christmas but used Christmas as a tool to highlight relationships. Let’s face it, Christmas is so tied up with family (which I see as a good thing!) that it can be a catalyst to facing up to issues or estranged relatives.

Would I recommend it? It was a nice read and I did enjoy it, and have contemplated reading the three others books about the same family (A proper family holiday was first and this book is followed by a proper family adventure and a wedding at Christmas).

The Christmas Cookie Club – Christmas book review

The Christmas Cookie Club
book cover The Christmas Cookie Club

by Ann Pearlman
Simon & Shuster Ltd, United Kingdom, 2010

Age group: late teen – adult

Format: 288 page paperback

Absolutely about Christmas, this book is an unusual look at individuals, relationships and people supporting each other. It also inspires yummy cooking!

The story

A group of 12 women meet on the first Monday each December to swap cookies and stories of their lives.

My review

So I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, either in format or depth, so I was pleasantly surprised to quite enjoy it.

The story centres around one woman, Marnie, starting with her thinking of her daughters and preparing for the Christmas Cookie Club get together that night. After that, each chapter adds in a new woman, giving us a taste of her life and personality. I found that adding characters one at a time like that made it easier to remember who was who (although I did still have to flick back a few times!) and it also gave a real feel for each character.

The premise of the club (and it is based on a real club the author belongs to) is that each person makes some biscuits (cookies) of her choice, bringing a dozen for each other member of the club plus a dozen as a donation to a charity. Each women then goes home with 12 beautifully packaged biscuit dozens!

In presenting her biscuits, each woman tells a story about the biscuits and/or the packaging. We also get a copy of the recipe of the biscuits discussed so you can literally taste your way through this book! I haven’t yet used any of those recipes but intend to try at least a few of them. I also like that each recipe is in a different font, with some sort of connection to the woman or recipe.inside page of The Christmas Cookie Club, showing a recipe from Rosie

Yes, the book got me thinking of starting a Christmas Biscuit Club or something similar – and I note Pearlman has since written another book to help those inspired – The Christmas Cookie Cookbook: All the Rules and Delicious Recipes to Start Your Own Holiday Cookie Club. I haven’t yet done anything about organising such a club – have you been to one or started one? What did you think of it? I must admit the thought of cooking 12 or 13 dozen biscuits is somewhat intimidating!

Reading this book, I noticed a lot of relationship issues were raised (in a realistic and empathetic way). It turns out that Pearlman is a psychotherapist and marriage therapist so she has some insights, and her autobiography, Infidelity, sounds like a very interesting book about the impact of marital infidelity. The two books together would make an interesting Christmas gift, I think.

So do I recommend it? Yes, if you want a heart warming story that goes beyond shallow relationship and happy endings for everyone, and a story about Christmas traditions worth having.

Skipping Christmas – Christmas book review

Skipping Christmas cover of John Grisham's Skipping Christmas

by John Grisham

Dell (Random House), New York, 2001

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 198 page paperback

I know John Grisham as a respected author, covering serious books such as The FirmThe Associate and The Rooster Bar, so I was pleased to see a Christmas book by him – I loved the idea of a Christmas book with some depth to it.

The story

A middle aged couple decide to skip Christmas after their only daughter goes overseas in November.

My review

I started this book with expectations of something to get involved in, although the length said it couldn’t get too complex, and pleasure at a serious Christmas read. It is only since starting it that I discovered it was promoted as a comedy – don’t get me wrong, comedy is great but it isn’t what I was expecting from John Grisham.

And comedy is not what I got – nor was a serious read with depth.

My expectations kept me going through the early part of the book as I had hopes of improvement. Further in, I did get more of an interest in the characters but the plot was still pretty mediocre.

Luther and Nora decided to save money and pass on the usual Christmas traditions – not just avoid decorating their house and not celebrating on Christmas Day, but to avoid all things Christmas including attending work Christmas parties, sending cards or even giving service people their annual tip/gift. It seemed a little drastic to cut out everything (but of course I am biased by my love of Christmas!) but I suppose that is where the humour lies and the social comment on how much Christmas pervades our lives in December.

I felt uncomfortable with some of the reactions to Luther and Nora – it just seemed rude to me that people come to the door expecting them to buy a Christmas cake or tree, and then arguing when the answer was no. To then offer $100 later in the year as compensation also seemed pointless – they weren’t saving money that way and seemed to accept the rude expectation on them.

As an Aussie, I found the name of one scout hilarious though – Randy Bogan! Could you imagine going to school or a party and saying ‘hi I’m Randy Bogan’?

Luther had my sympathies by the end of the story, and I liked that the neighbours rallied around him and Nora. There was a bit of ‘no matter what, when you really need us we’ll be there’ from the street, which is lovely, but given their earlier attitudes and behaviours it felt a little ‘aren’t we good’ instead of generous – and it was aimed at Blair (the daughter) anyway. This was during the slapstick part of the book where Christmas was no longer being skipped and things were looking a little lonely. In a movie, this part may look funny but it was sad in the book, I thought.Back cover of book Skipping Christmas

So I guess a few questions arise as I think about this book… shouldn’t people be able to celebrate or not as suits them, without fear of ridicule? Is it reasonable for a neighbourhood to band together against one household for no real misdemeanour? Should Christmas carols be used as a weapon to humiliate people’s choice of not decorating their front yard?

Good parts to the book – it has a happy ending, it has a few funny moments (like a risqué charity calendar that didn’t go to plan), it is well written (no awkward sentences to trip over, no long winded descriptions, assumption you can understand rather than repeating details over and over, good grammar, and so on), and it was easy o read and follow. Oh, and of course, it was definitely about Christmas, even if it wasn’t!

Would I recommend it? As a Grisham novel, no. As a cheery Christmas spirit story, no. As a comedy, definitely not. As a light read a bit different to the usual, yes it is an ok story.

Follow me Santa – Christmas book review

Follow me Santa

by Roger Priddy
illustrated by Steven Wood
This book was made by Nicola Friggens, Robyn Newton, Penny Worms and Kylie Hamley

Priddy books, New York, 11 September 2018

Age group: toddler to pre-school

Book cover of Follow me Santa

The fun starts on the front cover!

Format: 14 page thick pages

This is exciting – a new release Christmas book that is colourful and fun! I think this should be under many Christmas trees this year!

The story

A quick overview of Santa’s activities on Christmas Eve, from leaving his workshop to arriving back home ready for a nap.

The story as such is short and simple but you get to follow along by finding the way for Santa through a finger maze.

My review

This book is a delight! I discovered Roger Priddy’s work earlier this year when I reviewed Let’s Pretend Christmas and was happy to find this book was going to be released in September (and I may have ordered it on the spot as a pre-release!)

Let’s start with the mazes – I like that they are cut outs so that little (and not so little) fingers can trace their way through the maze. Much more fun and easier to use again and again than a maze you draw on. The pattern is not the same on every page so there is challenge to it, even more so if you get distracted and look at the pictures rather than focussing on the maze from above. My favourite is the maze up and down chimneys so the correct path is all over the double page spread.

Inner pages of Follow me Santa showing the ocean

Steven Wood has done some lovely illustrations, too. Each image is cute and colourful, and there are fun details to notice (like the bike covered in Christmas paper and the air traffic controller elf).

As well as the maze, there is a search activity on each page. And I like that it has a little twist on some pages – for instance there are five polar bears but only four are wearing jumpers as listed to find.

Santa does travel the world but is only shown in cold, icy places unfortunately, but it great to see elves male and female, and different skin colours. Maybe one day Priddy can do a second book to include those of us with warm Christmas celebrations!

I also love the details of Mrs Claus having a present for Santa at the end, although it must wait until he has finished his well deserved nap with his teddy!inside pages of Follow me Santa

 

So do I recommend it? Absolutely! It will entertain young children for ages while helping them observe, count and gain fine motor skills. Older children may solve the mazes faster, but can still enjoy the illustrations and feel of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cosy Christmas Teashop – Christmas book review

The cosy Christmas teashop

Front cover of the Cosy Christmas teashiop

by Caroline Roberts

HarperImpulse (Harper Collins), London 2014

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Format: 384 page paperback

This is actually my daughter’s book, but the title gives a Christmas link and sounded cute so I gave it a go.

The story

Ellie runs a teashop and weddings in an old castle, alongside her husband and a mixed team. The story covers their lives over a few months, including weddings, a Christmas Fayre and a Christmas wedding.

My review

I hadn’t realised it was the second book about Ellie, and the summary of the first book was a surprise – poorly written and not introduced as a summary made me wonder if it was a poor prologue!

Frankly, I think this book could be about one third shorter simply by removing the repetition! In the first fifty pages I lost count of how many times I was told Ellie had started a new tearoom and was lucky to have met the wonderful Joe. Then there was the mention of her father and brother in overalls in front of their van labelled “Hall & Son” – followed a page later with an explanation that her brother had moved into a trade like their Dad and joined the family business. I found it insulting to imply I couldn’t understand or remember anything and needed to be told it over and over.

Aside from the repetition, I found the writing very simple, over detailed and the conversation stilted.

The story itself varied between sweet romance with Ellie, Joe and their friends running a teashop and tourist castle, and humorous interactions with customers such as a Bridezilla wanting to arrive on a unicorn!

Running a Christmas Fayre followed by a special wedding, gives the story the tinsel, mince pies and Christmas cakes I enjoy. The Fayre does sound beautiful with a huge tree and lots of festive stalls inside the manor hall of an old English castle – I would enjoy being part of that!

So do I recommend it? I can’t say I would recommend this, unless you read book one and want to know more about Ellie and Joe, but it’s not bad for a light read if you can get past the repetition.

Artul’s Christmas hamster – Christmas book review

Artul’s Christmas hamperFront cover Artul's Christmas hamper

 

by Richard Brown
illustrated by Paul Howard

Cambridge Readers, UK, 1996

Age group: 4 to 7 years old

Format: 24 page paperback

Another lucky find at our holiday house, this is a year one reader that originated from a school near home! My kids are above this reading level now but we still had fun reading it together.

The story

A young boy meets a hamster for the first time and is hopeful his parents are getting him one for Christmas.

My review

This is a sweet story that is actually based on a true story from 1973 when Artul Pandy was new to Cambridge (England).

When visiting a friend, Artul sees a hamster and very excitedly tells his parents how much he would love to get one for Christmas. His parents were very non-committal to this request but had some mysterious shopping trips.

Reading the book, it did seem very likely Artul would get a hamster on Christmas morning but a beginning reader book isn’t likely to have a lot of depth or complexity in the plot! Having said that, the book did have an unexpected twist for Christmas morning that added to overall enjoyment of the story (and luckily the potentially bad ending didn’t eventuate!)

Would I recommend it? For a child learning to read, this is a great Christmas story to practice with. For everyone else, it is simple but enjoyable so yes I’d say it deserves to be recognised as a good Christmas book!

Lettice’s Christmas wish – Christmas book review

Lettice’s Christmas wishfront cover of Lettice's Christmas wish

 

text & illustrations by Mandy Stanley

HarperCollins Children’s Books , Great Britain, 2010

Age group: 2-5 years old

Format: 32 page paperback

How happy was I to discover a Christmas book on the shelves at our latest holiday house? It may have been out of season, but my kids and I enjoyed reading it together ?

The story

A curious and brace rabbit sets off to discover Christmas.

My review

This is a cute little story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief!

Lettice is a young rabbit who can communicate with humans, wonder what Christmas is and dress but has never seen snow before.

inside pages of Lettice Christmas Wish story bookShe goes off exploring to find out what Christmas really is, eventually finding some children who show her Christmas in their house. They discuss things like decorating the house and Santa delivering gifts, which is sweet, but I was a bit uncomfortable about all their wishes coming true and the absence of ‘being with family’ and ‘sharing’ in their descriptions. That is, it may be somewhat realistic for how children think but isn’t encouraging deeper thought nor non-material warmth.

It is a happy and joyful story, including generous children, so it seems very suitable as  Christmas book.

Would I recommend it? For younger children and those who have enjoyed other Lettice books, yes this is a beautiful addition to a Christmas book collection.

final page of the Lettice Christmas Wish story

Let’s Pretend Christmas – Christmas book review

Let’s Pretend ChristmasFront cover of Let's Pretend Christmas book and piezes

 

by Roger Priddy
Priddy Books, UK 2017

Age group: toddlers
Format: hardcover picture book, 8 page book plus 15 cut outs

I have a friend who loves Christmas as much as me so when I saw this interactive book, I just had to get it for her toddler!

The story

A simple story with things to find and objects to fit in place.

My review

This is a cute book, designed for inquisitive toddlers as it encourages interactions with the book rather than just listening to a story.

The book has a plastic box attached that contains various cut outs. There are five spots per double page where the cut outs will fit in, so little fingers have to coordinate the pieces like a simple jigsaw puzzle. It is simple and a good idea, although my nine year old found a few pieces challenging to place – it is easy to have them upside down and some are quite a tight fit.

Let's Pretend Christmas cut outs

The text on each double page mentions certain items for the child to find as well – two candy canes or three presents for example. We also then realised that each of the cut outs for that page are also ‘hidden’ on the page to be found. There are suitably obviously placed for toddlers to be challenged and find them all.Inside pages of the Let's Pretend Christmas book

I really liked this book, and the two year old recipient loved the pictures and playing with the cut outs so I count it as a successful Christmas present all round!

It also introduced me to Roger Priddy’s books – he seems to have written some fantastic books for kids that are fun and educational.

Would I recommend it? The publisher describes the book as “Encourages development of vocabulary and hand-eye coordination skills” and I would say that is very accurate, so this is a fun and developmental Christmas book I highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

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