Early Years Christmas Books

Maisy’s Christmas Letters
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy is throwing a Christmas party and she’s been busy writing invitations to all her friends. It’s not long before the replies start coming in, along with other surprise items for Maisy such as a calendar(Eddie), a recipe (Cyril), a tiny joke book (Charley) and a special letter.
Interactive fun for little ones and just right to share in the run-up to Christmas. I suspect Maisy will acquire a host of new human friends with this book.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

Thanks to a surprise gift from her mother on the first of December, and her own thoughtfulness, Marigold Mouse is able to bring Christmas happiness to her best friend Marvin.
Mark Carthew’s lively rhyming narrative and Simon Prescott’s expressive illustrations together make for a warm-hearted seasonal story in the Marvin and Marigold series reminding us all that Christmas is for sharing with others.

Winnie the Pooh: The Long Winter Sleep
Jane Riordan, Eleanor Taylor and Mikki Butterley
Egmont

Who or what is making those Scritch! Scratch! Crunch! sounds as Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood bed down for their long winter sleep, shutting out the cold wind blowing through the Forest? One after another the animals venture out into the darkness in the hopes of discovering the source of the weird noises. What they find comes as a wonderful surprise that warms them both outside and inside.

Jane Riordan succeeds in capturing the essence of Milne’s characters in this charming tale while the illustrators give a slightly carton feel to the artwork.
Also in the same series but in a mini edition:

A Pudding for Christmas
The friends all gather to make a Christmas pudding, “A gigantic delicious pudding as big as Pooh,” announces Christopher Robin. Each in turn adds an ingredient to the mix and then one by one they stir the pudding and make a wish until Kanga realises that Roo is missing. Is he or is he not somewhere in the pudding? It’s probably a good idea to defer cooking it – just in case …
Another enchanting episode for tinies, this pocket sized book would make a good stocking filler.

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed

The eagerly anticipated season of holiday underwear has arrived and there’s seasonal excitement in veggie land. So says the green pea announcer at the start of the latest in Jared Chapman’s zany series.

Readers are then treated to a pants extravaganza that displays underwear of the cosy and scratchy kinds, that to wear inside and outside; to accommodate the Christmas meal there are stretchy pants as well as the inevitable tight pair. Some pants are similar while others are utterly unique. And because it’s Christmas even Santa is suitably ‘panted. Festive silliness for sure.

Things New and Things Old for Christmas

The Most Wonderful Gift in the World
Mark Sperring and Lucy Fleming
Little Tiger

Friends, Esme and Bear, discover one last present under their tree on Christmas morning but it isn’t for either of them. Its tag reads ‘For Little Bunny Boo-Boo, Love Santa.’ They decide to find its intended recipient and donning their warmest clothes, off they go into the snow. Guided by signs that give specific instructions ‘FOLLOW THE TREACHEROUS PATH’, ‘WALK THROUGH THE HOWLING GALE’ and carry on beyond ‘DEEP, DEEP’ snow drifts, the two slip, slide, bump and are blasted towards a little wooden cabin.

There they receive a wonderfully warm welcome from Little Bunny Boo Boo but notice that thus far, she hasn’t received a single Christmas present. Imagine Bear and Esme’s surprise then when the rabbit opens the package only to find there’s absolutely nothing inside other than a small note.

The explanation that follows from Little Bunny Boo-Boo reveals that’s she’s actually received exactly what she was hoping for.

Mark Sperring’s festive tale about kindness, friendship and going the extra mile shows readers and listeners that the very best presents aren’t really wrappable at all. Imbued with the warmth and spirit of the season too are Lucy Fleming’s bright, expressive illustrations making this a book to read with little ones in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The Christmas Unicorn
Anna Currey
Oxford University Press

Here’s a tale of the enduring magic that Christmas holds for young children.

Young Milly isn’t too happy at the prospect of spending Christmas at her Grandpa’s, but Mum explains as she tucks her into bed that he’ll be lonely otherwise and that Dad will join them as soon as he can.

During the night Milly is woken by a noise coming from beneath her bedroom window and discovers a unicorn standing there, attracted by the twinkling of all the Christmas lights of the town. Florian is his name. Milly lets him inside and from then on the unicorn participates in breakfast and all the Christmas preparations. They unpack decorations and adorn the tree but when the newcomer gets a bit over-enthusiastic about tasting the decorations, Grandpa suggests a trip to the Christmas market where Florian temporarily goes missing.

Milly’s search yields not only the unicorn, but also an invitation from a little girl who lives nearby, for Milly to join her in tobogganing the following day.

Then it’s time for Florian to depart but back in Grandpa’s house something very special awaits their return.

This wonderfully warm story of wishes, magic and love has all the warmth of the season but without the glitz and glitter. Anna Currey’s gentle watercolour illustrations add much to her telling; they’re enchantingly expressive and really bring the characters to life.

First published fifteen years ago the book has lost none of its original charm.

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon / On Angel Wings

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon
Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens
Egmont

I’d not until now come across this story, despite it originally being published five years ago and subsequently made into a musical play. It’s said to be inspired by the author’s visit to a village in Switzerland some years earlier and tells of a fearsome dragon that lives in her castle lair high in the mountains, and a little girl, Mimi who lives in the village below.

One snowy Christmas morning Mimi discovers a baby dragon in the woodshed.

As the entire village population, her father among them, had been chanting ‘Death to the Mountain Dragon!’ the previous day, she knows she must keep him a secret and get him back to his mother as soon as possible.

Waiting until everyone else is safely inside the church for the Christmas service, she bravely sets out alone up the mountain.
Once at the castle, Mimi almost decides to flee when she finds herself face to face with the terrifying Mountain Dragon; but before she can move, the baby launches himself towards his mother and the two are reunited.

With mother and baby dragon now back together, Mimi is no longer scared but she knows she must get back down to the village. She also knows that the disaster that happens thereafter has nothing to do with the Mountain Dragon as the villagers suppose.

All ends happily thanks in fact, to the dragon …

With the folk style feel to Michael Morpurgo’s Christmassy telling and Helen’s equally folksy illustrations, this is a timeless book that can be enjoyed and revisited year after year.

On Angel Wings
Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake
Egmont

Created by dream team erstwhile Children’s Laureates Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake, this is a beautiful reworking of the nativity story for older readers/listeners.

Imbued throughout with warmth and humour, Michael Morpurgo’s telling captivates from its opening lines, ‘The truth is that once we weren’t children anymore, we never did believe Grandpa’s story, not really—as much as we might have wanted to…. We still loved listening to it, though. Christmas nights would never have been the same without it.’ This sets the scene for Grandpa, then a young shepherd boy, to tell his tale of what happened on the night Christ was born.

A family of shepherds is visited by the angel Gabriel: “Oh dear … I can see you are going to need some convincing,“ he says in response to their questions but convince them he does (with the aid of a host of angels).

Off they set towards Bethlehem leaving the far from happy youngest among them to mind the sheep, despairing of the unfairness of his situation.

But then Gabriel appears before the boy

saying “So I’ve had this idea, to make it a little fairer. I could fly you there and back, lickety-split, and no one would ever know you’d been gone.” (I love that use of colloquial language.) And so he does with the result that the lad is the first visitor to the stable.

He leaves the infant his very own shepherd’s crook before Gabriel wings him back to the flock of sheep, though that isn’t quite the end …

Quentin Blake’s distinctive ink and watercolour illustrations deepen both the wit and poignancy of Morpurgo’s telling making this a book to cherish.

Sarah’s Two Nativities

Sarah’s Two Nativities
Janine M. Fraser and Hélène Magisson
Walker Books

In our world where many people distrust others whom they see as a threat to their way of life, and religious differences are the cause of so many problems, it’s wonderful to see this story that will help children understand that although there are many different beliefs and customs, if we listen to one another and take time to understand our differences, it will help us discover what we have in common.

Sarah has two grandmothers, Grandmother Azar and Grandmother Maria both of whom she loves to spend time with. Grandmother Azar tells her stories from the Holy Koran and when she visits she cooks kofte with Sarah. Grandmother Maria’s stories come from the Bible and together she and Sarah make cupcakes.

Both holy books, full of stories, sit side by side on a shelf in Sarah’s house and her favourite stories are the nativities her grandmothers tell at Christmas.

They are similar in many ways but have differences too. ‘How can they both be true?’ asks Sarah. What she hears in response and what follows, show the little girl that what is most important is a family living together in peace.

What a smashing story showing how similarities transcend differences and that’s what we should focus on and celebrate; it’s ideal for sharing during the Christmas season but a lovely book for any time. Hélène Magisson’s watercolour illustrations are absolutely beautiful, radiating the love and warmth that exists between all the members of Sarah’s family.

We CAN live peaceably together if we listen to one another’s stories.

Seasonal Stories for Young Solo Readers

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you missed the hardback publication of this wintry wonder last year then grab it now; it’s perfect seasonal reading for new solo readers.
Full of sparkly magic and fab. pink and black illustrations of the half fairy, half vampire star of the show, her friends and family members, this is first chapter book bliss for a certain section of the population.

Isadora feels more than a tad disappointed not to have been invited to her friend Oliver’s ice-skating birthday party, something her parents notice once she’s back home.

To cheer her up Mum suggests inviting her snow fairy, Aunt Crystal, over instead. Isadora has terrific fun with Pink Rabbit playing in the snow and ice her aunt makes ; even more so when the adults go indoors and the snow boy she’s built and Pink Rabbit’s snow bunny come magically to life.

But as her mum tells her, “Magic can’t always last forever … even magic snow melts eventually.” Can the Snow Fairy Queen who lives in the Land of Ice and Snow help? It’s certainly worth finding out …

A charmer best enjoyed along with a cup of hot chocolate after which there are all the festive activities at the back to try.

More seasonal magic in another chapter book:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Santa Surprise
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

Picture book favourites Winnie the Witch and her forbearing feline, like countless others are eagerly anticipating Christmas. The excitement mounts as the Advent calendar is opened each day, but it’s presents that occupy their thoughts in the main and especially presents for Santa himself. “Proper presents that are more than a drinkie and squince pie?” wonders Winnie.

Before you can say, ‘Christmas stocking’ the two W’s are on the case. Perhaps the staff and pupils at the local primary school could help with suggestions for a perfect Santa pressie.

Then it’s off to the North Pole – brrrrrrr! Make sure you wear your fur-lined undies Winnie. But will they arrive in time to deliver his Santa-ness the gift of a lifetime and still reach home to celebrate the big day with all their friends?

Zany madness that’s full of the joys of the festive season.

The Pug who wanted to be a Reindeer
Bella Swift, illustrated by Nina Jones
Orchard Books

It’s December and a year since Peggy the pug found her forever home with the Jackson family. Now though the prospect of Christmas isn’t making Chloe feel at all cheerful and the rest of the family seem to be down in the dumps too.

When even the school Christmas fair fails to cheer Chloe up, Peggy resolves to become a reindeer. That way she could use some reindeer magic to make the person she loves most in the world feel happy again. It’s not quite as simple as she anticipates though – there’s the question of antlers for a start.

In the end Peggy decides she needs a new plan, one that involves going to the North Pole and enlisting the help of Santa himself. With less than a week to go before he leaves for his Christmas Eve delivery round there’s no time to lose.

Can Peggy possibly fix things so that not just Chloe but the entire Jackson family find their festive spirit in time for the big day?

Another warm and snuggly Peggy the Pug story about thinking of others at Christmas time.

The Tree That’s Meant To Be

The Tree That’s Meant To Be
Yuval Zommer
Oxford University Press

Both his wonderful sense of humour and his love of nature and its beauty, shine forth from Yuval Zommer’s festive story of a little tree.

The tale is told by the tree itself. It speaks of its perceived imperfections right from the start – its asymmetry and lack of rapid growth: ‘Looking wonky. Feeling small’ we’re told.

The seasons come and go. People search the forest looking for the perfect tree to cut and take inside for Christmas. One by one the trees are felled until one snowy winter’s night the little tree finds itself alone, seemingly forgotten and unloved.

It’s not so though, for the forest animals have heard its cry and it turns out that the little tree is to have a very special Christmas after all.

Such important themes for all, children especially – unconditional love, enduring companionship and support – are woven into this tale. And what a wonderful way to end, which ensures that this is a story to share beyond Christmas.

All Yuval’s rich, detailed illustrations are a joy to behold. Breaking into rhyme from time to time, the narration really gives a sense of what it feels like to think you’re far from perfect, but this is ultimately, an uplifting book, one to keep and revisit.

The Little Fir Tree

The Little Fir Tree
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Christopher Corr’s reworking of the Hans Christian Andersen classic story is a cautionary tale that ends rather differently from the original.

Christopher’s characteristic dazzling folk art style illustrations follow the little fir tree from its place deep in the forest where it stands feeling discontented with its lot, as other, bigger trees around are felled. Learning that they are to be used to build cabins and ships, the tree insists it too wants to “become a ship and sail on the sea.”

“Don’t wish your life away … Every moment is precious” is the sage advice from the birds that comment on its beauty, as do others – human and animals during the next couple of years.

But then comes the fir tree’s opportunity to have a sparkling adventure of its own. Having been cut down it’s taken into a grand house where children adorn its branches with festive decorations.

Its time of glory though is short-lived, although the fir tree does enjoy a sharing of The Snow Queen

before its branches are stripped of all its adornments by eager hands just before bedtime, leaving the tree eagerly anticipating their replacement the following day.

But it’s not to be, for next morning the tree is taken outside and put in the shed where it stays abandoned with nothing to do but reminisce about its life back in the forest – “It was the best place in the world … If only I’d known it then.”

Corr doesn’t leave the tree rueing its fate though, for come spring, the children drag it outside once more and there they give it a new persona; and thanks to its old friend Squirrel, there’s also an opportunity to create life anew.

Live in the moment and appreciate what you have is the gentle message that emerges from this fine book.