The Anzac Billy

The Anzac Billy
Claire Saxby, Mark Jackson & Heather Potter
Walker Books

I totally fell for the little boy character in The Anzac Billywhen I saw him on the front cover. Based on true events, it’s set during World War 1 in a week when Christmas is approaching and the boy (and his family) are packing carefully chosen items into a billy in the hope it will reach his dad in time for Christmas. From Monday to Friday, one thing per day, the small boy puts in butterscotch (his own favourite), yucky fish (Dad’s favourite), walnuts from their tree, a bar of chocolate, and a pair of ‘just-knit’ socks.

On Saturday it’s Mum’s turn and she adds a razor, safety pins and soap (‘to wash his undies’) and Nan fills the remaining space on Sunday with a couple of handkerchiefs and paper and pencil for writing home.

Now all this so lovingly packed cannot be posted, nor sent by road or rail; it has to be shipped along with boxes of other billies; and naturally the boy is concerned that it might not reach his own dad for as his Mum tells him, ‘there’s a Christmas billy for every warfield soldier, filled by families, filled by friends’.

To make sure though, Billy puts in a note requesting that if another soldier receives his offering, then ‘please send my letter on.’ – this letter that he so carefully penned during that week from which we see how much he misses his Dad.

Claire Saxby’s telling feels authentic and is full of tenderness and poignant moments; all this is echoed in Mark Jackson and Heather Potter’s soft sepia scenes of Australia in a bygone era when light was not electric and life was much harder for everyone.

An ideal book for young readers, and KS1/ lower KS2 pupils studying the period; it would also make an unusual, but highly pertinent, Christmas time story.

 

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

What a gorgeous introduction to the festive season for a little babe is the latest in Lisa and Edward’s Baby’s First Cloth Book series.

Baby Boo, suitably clad is taken outdoors into the snow where, to the song of a bird, Daddy and infant build a snowman. Back inside the fire gives a warm glow, the Christmas tree lights sparkle and soon Santa will come with a special gift for Baby Boo.

With its crinkly pages and buggy handle, this book in a box would make a lovely gift for a new parent this Christmas.

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

The mouse elves are all prepared; it’s time to start decorating. Out come the lights, the garland, the baubles, and the star.
But why sunglasses and hot chocolate and surely a map and air freshener aren’t needed to adorn a tree?

Eventually in a fun twist, Ethan Long reveals all. It’s a turbo-charged sleigh those elves have been busily decorating: now who might that belong to? …

Just right to share as you and your toddler set about decorating your tree.

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Unlike other titles in this series where you can make an entire scene, the press-out pieces from this festive book slot together or are used separately to make twenty seasonal decorations – Santa, a reindeer, an angel, snowflakes and a star, bells and baubles, candy canes and a Christmas tree to hang on your tree.
There are also pages with instructions for making paper chains and wrapping paper, recipes for gingerbread biscuits and snowball truffles, the words of the ever popular Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and those little ones who like messier things can use their hands and feet to print a reindeer’s head: (if done on thick paper or card these might be turned into Christmas cards).

Helpfully the decorations can be dismantled and popped back into the book to keep them safe until next year.

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ag Ford
Chronicle Books

Christmas is almost here but the construction vehicle team has one final job to complete: they’re building a very special house and they really must get it done.

Into action roars Bulldozer first and for his trouble he receives a special thank you gift.

So it is with Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck and Crane: each one gets a special ‘thank you’ surprise at the end of the day.

Then across the snow comes the fleet of fire-trucks, bells a-ringing. What awaits this merry ‘fire crew’ as they come to a halt for the night? …

Full of the seasonal spirit of friendship and kindness, the rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain “Merry Christmas! … Goodnight.” together with richly coloured spreads of the construction vehicles against a snowy townscape make for a truck-lovers delight.

The Velveteen Rabbit

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The Velveteen Rabbit
Margery Williams illustrated by Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow
If this, the first of Nosy Crow’s new series of picture book classics is anything to judge by, they’re onto a huge winner: Sarah Massini’s pictorial rendition of the book is quite simply heart strings-tuggingly beautiful. I just sat stroking my copy for several minutes before even opening it. Margery Williams classic has been a favourite of mine almost as long as I can remember. I expect you’re familiar with the story of How the Toys Became Real – a tale of friendship and the special loving bond that a young child develops with a favourite soft toy -so I’ll concentrate on the new illustrations. I’m sure Sarah has invested a very great deal of emotional energy and love into every single picture, large …

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or small and the result is visual delight at every turn of the page.

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Margery Williams’ original story is not far short of 100 years old having first been published in 1922 with illustrations by William Nicholson. I dug out my 1991 copy to look at the two alongside one another.

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The first thing that strikes me is that Sarah Massini’s front cover rabbit sports a smart jacket and looks, I have to say, much more “bunchy’ that Nicolson’s. The original book has just seven illustrations and really it’s much more an illustrated book, than a picture book. In contrast, the new version for all its 56 pages is to me, very definitely a picture book of the modern kind. Yes, the seven original illustrations have been re-created herein,

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but now, an illustration graces every spread, with text and pictures fully integrated …

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Pure magic: this is a book to treasure, to share and to give. And, it’s set the bar very high for the rest of the promised series. I look forward to the next one.

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Christmas is Coming part 2

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I Love You Father Christmas
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
A small child’s delight in the festive season is lovingly portrayed through Giles Andreae’s bouncy rhyme, which is actually a letter to Father Christmas, and Emma Dodd’s characteristically bright, bold pictures.

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The latter have enormous child appeal and her jolly scenes of a totally endearing character should reassure any young child who is slightly nervous about Santa.
One to give to the youngest children.
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Are You Ready For Christmas?
Helen Lang
Templar Publishing
It’s Christmas Eve and Reindeer meets and greets friends Mouse, Squirrel and Dove. Each tells him of their special last minute preparations but then Reindeer seems to have forgotten what his special role is. The final fold-out reveals all.

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This is actually in board book format but I think this rhyming story could be enjoyed by children beyond that stage too. With its bold, coloured lines, patterns and touches of sparkle, Helen Lang’s artwork is quirky and charming. The scenes set against the dark night sky are particularly striking.
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Lollipop and Grandpa and the Christmas Baby
Penelope Harper and Cate James
Phoenix Yard Books pbk
When Lollipop receives the news that there’s to be a new addition to her family and that it will arrive just in time for Christmas, she is far from enthusiastic. Crying, stinky and attention grabbing is what she thinks of babies. “Christmas is ruined!” she feels as the infant’s arrival time draws ever closer. Fortunately for Lollipop, Grandpa is on hand to involve her in all the festive preparations and when on Christmas Eve, Dad and Mum have to leave her to go to the hospital, he helps her hang up the stockings. But on Christmas morning, although Santa has left presents, her Mum and Dad still haven’t come back. It’s over to Grandpa once again – to do the Christmas dinner this time. And even if it’s not quite the conventional festive meal her parents might have expected, it does have that Wow factor. So too does the tiny Christmas Baby that Dad is holding all wrapped up and definitely NOT crying.
This, the fifth of the series, is as enjoyable as the others and Lollipop should win some new friends with this seasonal goodie.
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Belle and Boo and the Merry Christmas
Mandy Sutcliffe
Orchard Books
The fourth in this series about a little girl and her rabbit friend (toy or real?) sees the inseparable pair getting ready for Christmas. First they decorate the tree and Belle has to explain to Boo what Christmas entails and then together they put up paper-chains, make cards and Christmas cookies, hang up their stocking and finally snuggle up for the night. Then, next morning after opening their respective presents, Boo decides they should share the joys of Christmas with their animal friends outside in the garden.
A gentle, slightly whimsical story with an old-fashioned charm, illustrated in appropriately soft colours. with just a touch of festive sparkle on the cover.
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Father Christmas Comes Up Trumps!
Nicholas Allan
Red Fox pbk
A few years back, Father Christmas was in need of a wee; now he needs something much more explosive. It’s the result of his over indulgence in – wait for it – Brussels sprouts – on his final supper before departing on his Christmas Eve delivery round. With his wind-filled tum, it’s a good thing that Santa is accompanied by his helpful elf who is on hand to push him down chimneys and utter ‘Sssshhh!“ warnings when those bubbling, rumbling, gurgling sounds start to emanate from his explosive belly. Santa does his level best to keep his wind in but his utterance of “Ooooo! my tum – it’s going to start. This time I’m really going to f . . . !” signals that the effort has become just too much. Out comes a ‘cheep’ and its time to run from the stirring child. But, horror of horrors! His reindeers are totally zonked in the sleigh. Perhaps it’s as well then that the elf’s final exhortation goes unheeded: time to make use of that WIND power to launch the sleigh skywards and homewards. PWHOOOAH!
As before, this slightly risqué humour will have young children wriggling on their bottoms in delight especially, in anticipation of the final grand
F F A A A R R T T !
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A Letter for Bear
David Lucas
Flying Eye Books
Bear is a postman, painstakingly ensuring he delivers every letter in his sack to the correct address each day and then trudging back to his cave to drink soup and wonder what it would be like to get a letter himself. The trouble is Bear never sends any letters. One windy day when out on his round, the wind takes the mailbag scattering the contents all over the snow. Bear collects all the letters but the addresses are smudged so he conscientiously knocks on each door to ensure correct delivery. The recipients are thankful but Bear feels even lonelier as he returns to his cave. Time for a change, he thinks as he gazes out at the snowy night. He sets to work writing Christmas party invitations and next morning he delivers a whole snowstorm of letters to his new acquaintances.

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That evening having waited for ages and ages, Bear is about to give up when he hears voices outside. It’s party time after all and even better, the following morning guess who gets a whole sackful of letters of his very own.
The real strength of this book is Lucas’ intricately patterned illustrations. Almost every double spread has a geometric border of patterned triangles, rectangles, diamonds or scallops and set into some of the scenes, we view Bear’s lonely world through circular peephole vignettes. His use of limited colours – shades of blue, orange, purple, russet, pink and orange and his use of geometric shapes for, or to pattern, trees, buildings, flowers and more, add to the impact. Then there are angled viewpoints, interrupted borders and beautiful snowscapes . This book is a small masterpiece of design.
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The Smallest Gift of Christmas
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
Having eagerly anticipated the great day, Roland is less than impressed when he dashes downstairs on Christmas morning to discover a very small parcel awaiting him. So, he wishes for a larger one again and again and … Still not satisfied he storms off and eventually launches himself in a rocket to search the whole universe. It’s not until he glimpses Earth as a tiny dot growing ever smaller through his telescope, that Roland begins to realize that bigger isn’t always better, unless of course, it’s your home and you are heading back towards it.
A simple message amusingly rendered through Reynolds’ comic scenes. This author/artist has the unfailing knack of getting right to the nub of things every time and, he clearly demonstrates with all his books, that small things can often be among the very best.
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Alfie’s Christmas
Shirley Hughes
Bodley Head
Making cards and decorations, counting down the days with an advent calendar featuring a nativity scene, Christmas cooking, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, choosing and wrapping presents, writing to Santa, carol singing, hanging up Christmas stockings and a family Christmas dinner with visiting relatives:

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these are just some of the ingredients of four-year old Alfie’s Christmas so lovingly told and illustrated in Shirley Hughes incomparable style.
This is a traditional family Christmas full of warmth, friendship, love, bustle and excitement, and some secrets too. It’s Christmas as we would wish it to be for everyone, before Christmas started in October and consumerism took over.
A book to buy and cherish year after year.
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Don’t forget:
Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish
Rebecca Harry Nosy Crow pbk
Lonely Snow Bunny’s Christmas wish is for a friend so she writes to Santa with her request.
For full review of this lovely story, now in paperback, see Seasonal Selection: Christmas Books 2012

Also reviewed there and now in paperback is :
When It Snows
Richard Collingridge
David Fickling Books pbk
A small boy’s favourite book transports him on a magical snowy Christmas adventure .

Christmas is Coming 1: The Nativity Story

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Christmas
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster
When I first taught infants many, many years ago Dick Bruna’s Christmas – the Methuen edition – was THE Christmas nativity book to share with young children. Indeed I can remember a number of children trying to copy Bruna’s illustrative style on their own cards and paintings. Now some thirty years on this new 50th anniversary edition still has the same charm and appeal as it did back then but it comes with a gleaming white cover, gold spine, embossed gold lettering and a lovely cut- out angel to use as a book mark. The story inside is the same and starts with the shepherds who receive a message from an angel

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and then set off to Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus in the stable. The narrative then moves to the three kings on their camels, who bring gifts for the special child.

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The story is simply told and illustrated in Dutch artist Bruna’s characteristic striking style with bold blocks of colour with thick black outlines.
For the very young, this is the perfect introduction to the nativity story in book form.
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The Nativity
May Eliot and Richard Johnson
Picture Corgi pbk
This story starts with the Annunciation and then we join Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem where they are offered a stable for the birthplace of their baby. Johnson’s faces speak eloquently of the range of emotions of the characters; Mary’s expression of awe and fright at the sight of the Angel Gabriel, the couple’s troubled countenances as they are turned away from lodgings,

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and the looks of reverence on the faces of the new parents as they gaze at the baby Jesus in the manger.

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A straightforward telling, beautifully illustrated in sombre hues.
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