The Three Wishes

The Three Wishes
Alan Snow
Pavilion Books

Rooted in a northern folk tale, this is a story of hope and kindness about the origins of Father Christmas. It tells of some nomadic people (Sami perhaps) living in the far north. The adults mostly forage and hunt while the children’s role (alongside playing) is to tend the deer.

One winter as the solstice approaches, in one particular family, the task of feeding the deer falls on the elder boy. A job he does reluctantly on account of his fear of the dark, until one day he discovers that all the deer are gone: without them how will his family survive?

Out into the silent forest runs the boy searching but it’s not long before as the snow falls ever faster, he realises that he’s lost. He struggles on until he’s near exhaustion but as he lays on the snow with sleep coming on him, he hears a sound. It’s a reindeer bell; the boy struggles to his feet and follows the sound until he finds the reindeer clustered around a cave entrance. The boy follows the deer inside the cave and suddenly finds himself in a timeless summer world where he’s confronted by three creatures.

They explain that he can never return to his home as this place must be kept secret. They grant him three wishes. He chooses freedom, happiness, and time. At the end of the year, they offer him a reward for his good work.

He’s then allowed to return to the outer world to visit his family, but only in the dead of winter each year, and on each visit, he leaves them a gift.
After three years, the bird, impressed by the boy’s love for his folks, offers him four feathers from its tail, tying them to the harness of the deer.

Their magic allows the deer to fly and one year, anticipating his visit, the family leaves a special set of new red clothes for their visitor …

The author has cleverly structured his story with the elements of gift giving, flying reindeer and a red suit being gradually interwoven into the enchanting narrative,

until we eventually realise where it’s all going. Snow’s illustrations are superb – beautifully designed and composed be they contained within intricate borders or not. I love the colour palette contrast between the eternal summer world and the chilly winter outside.

This is a delightful book to share over the festive season, perhaps sitting by a fire on a cold evening sipping a favourite hot drink.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Alex T. Smith
Macmillan Children’s Books

Creator of the wonderful Claude books, Alex T. Smith presents a comical sparkling new take on the seasonal classic song. Herein the narrator is a stylish young miss and ‘my true love’ has been replaced by a generous grandma. To call her merely generous might be somewhat inaccurate for despite starting off relatively sensibly – the partridge in a pear tree on day one, the two turtle doves along with the partridge in its tree on day two but by day five things have begun to get a tad out of hand,

and thereafter, particularly from day seven things are completely crazy …

And as for that final twelfth day gift, I’ll leave you that to discover what it is and how it’s received … I’m pretty sure it’ll make you splutter; I certainly did!

There’s some delicious alliteration, and

an abundance of visual hilarity – heaven help the post-person who has to deliver all that lot. Alternatively titled ‘Grandma is Overly Generous’ is most definitely no exaggeration (unless the grandma in question happens to be giving a copy of this book; in that case, she’s perfectly generous.)

Bears and More Bears

Willa and the Bear
Philomena O’Neill
Sterling

Made by her Grandma Bibbie, Willa’s rag doll Rosie is her constant companion until one winter’s day as Willa and her parents are on their way to Grandma’s birthday celebration, the doll falls from the sleigh and is lost in the dark snowy woods.

They stop and search but have no luck; little do they know that the doll has been found.

When they reach their destination, her gran gives Willa a little bear that she’s made. Later, Willa spies a real and very large bear through the cabin window …

but when they open the door all they find on the doorstep is Rosie. “That bear must be a friend of yours,” her gran tells Willa.

On the way back home Willa leaves her new toy bear in the snow with the words, “My friend will love you,” …

Despite its chilly setting this is a warm-hearted, albeit rather unlikely story of reciprocal giving and receiving; and the old-fashioned, cosy paintings have a Nordic feel.

Where Bear?
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

The fabulous Sophy Henn’s first picture book is now out in board book format and is just right for small hands.

It’s a heart-warming tale that stars a bear and a boy who have shared the boy’s abode since the bear was a cub and the boy considerably smaller.

Bear has now grown too large for the house and the boy, eager to find his friend a suitable new residence, sets out with him.
But where bear?” he asks over and over, until finally they find a suitable location and the boy heads back to his home.

Both bear and boy are happy, particularly as their friendship can be continued, verbally at least.

With such superb characterisation it’s a delight through and through.

Once Upon a Wish & Thank You!

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Once Upon a Wish
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox
Deep in the forest, in a giant oak tree, lives a magical wishgiving boy, as you’ll soon see …
By night, as the wishes drift his way, he spends his time concocting and conjuring up wish magic for girls and boys,

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then delivering it right to them …

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Despite their delight at receiving their heart’s desire, these children quickly forget the wish giver who also has a wish of his own, for it’s a lonely life he leads in that secret lair of his. The lad wishes for a pet or a friend to keep him company but try as he might, his own wish is unfulfilled …

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Then one night this wish wafts his way “I wish I could fly” and immediately our lad is up and doing, sprinkling, stirring and filling a bottle of potion, before sailing off to deliver same to the waiting wisher. This particular recipient however, is rather different. Yes, she’s absolutely over the moon at being able to take her maiden flight, but it’s what she does next …

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that makes all the difference, though not right away. Her kind words take a little while for their own particular brand of magic to do its work …

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Amy Sparkes’ brilliant to read aloud rhyming verses mixed with Sara Ogilvie’s sparklingly gorgeous, richly and humorously detailed, glowing illustrations make for a magic mix all of their own: sheer delight from cover to cover.
If you’ve ever forgotten to thank, or overlooked saying, thank you to anybody, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this one and send it to them forthwith; actually buy a copy no matter what; you’ll surely find someone or many, to share its enchantments.

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Thank You!
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed
A variety of animals, small and large, a toddler and an adult demonstrate ways of showing thankfulness in this delightfully playful board book. There’s an additional way of showing gratitude too herein: paying it forward. Cat proffers Dog a ball, then dog in turn gives a flower to hummingbird;

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hummingbird then offers panda a bamboo shoot ; panda extends his paw with peanut to elephant and so on. Each act of kindness receives a characteristic thankful response – “Growl growl!”,Toot toot!” and so on until we come full circle to the cat, now the recipient of a ball of wool.
Next, we see each of the recipients enjoying their gift and a small child watching and wondering. And then comes a final human sharing time with adult and child rounding things off neatly.

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Long constructs this whole concatenation cleverly with each animal stretching out of its border and across the gutter with its offering.
If you’re endeavouring to teach your young infant to respond appropriately when given something, this is the perfect book; just make sure you don’t end up with a confused child barking, humming, growling, tooting, eeking, oinking or meowing. Actually though, those speech bubbles are great for joining in with, and a slightly older sibling would likely enjoy reading the book to a very young brother or sister.

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Tufty/The Grumpy Pets

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Tufty
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Subtitled ‘The Little Lost Duck who Found Love’ this story starts in the grounds of Buckingham Palace where we meet a family of ducks and in particular the youngest, Tufty who we are told ‘always struggled to keep up.’

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The Royal residents of the palace – the Royal Duck and Duckess – (looking decidedly like the feathered residents) feed the duck family when they take their lakeside perambulations and keep them entertained with grand parties in the palace ballroom.

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With winter fast approaching, it’s time for the ducks to fly south to warmer climes Father Duck announces, and very soon, they’re on their way. Unable to keep up, Tufty is left behind and flies down to a subway on a traffic island where he discovers a kindly homeless man. The man takes Tufty back to his makeshift shelter in a hollow tree and there he looks after him …

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right through the long winter months.
Come spring, Tufty is much bigger and stronger and one day he sees his family overhead flying back to their lake in the palace grounds. Tufty joins them and as the number of ducks on the palace lake increases day by day, he notices one particular little duck that takes his fancy. Soon after, the two of them return to the lake in the woods where the kindly man warmly welcomes them.

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Foreman’s glowing watercolours are unfailingly wonderful, particularly in their portrayal of the contrasting scenes of the lush green palace grounds and the high-rise blocks of the city skyline; and the rainy urban roundabout and the peaceful hollow chestnut tree abode of the man beside the small lake.
Readers and listeners will warm to the plight of left-behind Tufty and the kindness of the man who gives him shelter and food, despite having very little of his own.

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The Grumpy Pets
Kristine A. Lombardi
Abrams
When a mother takes Billy and big sister Sara to Perfect Pets, the animal rescue shelter, it’s in the hope that it will give her somewhat disagreeable son something to smile about. Seemingly everyone else, including Sara, has managed to find their ideal pet …

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but young Billy remains decidedly sombre.

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Off he goes to look around the place, a place that seems full of happy animals, not his thing at all. But then he hears ’BARK!’, ‘GROWL!’, ‘Hisssss!’ which leads him to …

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and in particular one that’s ready to give as good as it gets and more …

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resulting in an “I’ll take him!” from Billy who knows when he’s met his match. Thus begins, one suspects, as we see boy and dog heading home, a wonderful friendship that will bring a whole lot more smiles where Billy is concerned.
Populated by endearing characters human and animal, this is a warm-hearted story of mutual rescue that is most likely to appeal to pooch lovers and those who sympathise with small, sometimes grouchy boys.

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