Book reviews

Christmas 2015 picks

There is always a lovely rush of Christmas themed titles published in the run up to the festive season and I wanted to point out a few particularly good examples in this year’s batch.

 

The Christmas Eve Tree

 

Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton’s (ill.) The Christmas Eve Tree (Walker Books) is a beautifully illustrated picture book with a refreshing message about the spirit of Christmas. The story begins in a forest of Christmas trees where we are introduced to a stunted and crooked little tree which wasn’t planted with the same care as the rest of the trees. The little tree is duly taken away with the others for sale in London and watches whilst the big trees get chosen to decorate cathedrals, town squares and houses. On Christmas Eve, the shop owner is about to throw out the unwanted tree when a young boy asks if he could take it instead. He carries the tree down to the river and places it in front of his home; a cardboard box under a railway bridge. Here we start to see a link of poor beginnings between the tree and the boy.

     

The boy uses a passer-by’s donation to decorate the tree and, with the arrival of a busker, a crowd gathers to enjoy the music and Christmas songs. A busy city stops to share a joyous moment together and the little tree is bursting with pride at its centre-stage role. The scene of people gathering to sing around the tree and enjoy the feeling of community reminds me of the Christmas charity carolling groups you come across at Brighton train station in December. People rushing off trains suddenly stop and stand for a while, smiling with their fellow commuters and enjoying a moment together free of the financial and commercial pressures that are so often associated with Christmas.

Days later the boy regretfully abandons the withering tree and moves on. Happily though, the tree is given a third chance and is collected by a street sweeper who plants the tree in a park where it thrives, offering shade and shelter to others for many years to come. The fate of the boy however is unknown, but the theme of the story offers hope that he too might be offered refuge and a new beginning.

 

Refuge

    

Offering refuge is a pertinent theme this Christmas in light of the current refugee crisis and this has been taken up by Anne Booth and Sam Usher (ill.) in their Christmas story, Refuge (Nosy Crow). Using the familiar story of the Nativity, the book outlines the two journeys made by Mary and Joseph. The first being the one from Nazareth to Bethlehem where they found shelter in the stable, and the second being their subsequent flee from King Herod to a safe refuge in Egypt.

The theme of refuge in the Nativity story is brought to the forefront in this book with overt parallels to the current crisis which has seen thousands of people fleeing their homelands to seek shelter in Europe. The authors have dedicated the book to refugee children around the world and £5 from the sale of each book is being donated to the charity War Child.

      

We used this powerful book to illustrate our Christmas display this year with the theme ‘Seeking Refuge’. Alongside Refuge, we have also placed the book Ali’s Story: A journey from Afghanistan by Andy Glynne and Salvador Maldonado (BBC Learning) in our display. This book tells the true story of Ali, a ten year old boy from Afghanistan who flees his war-torn country with his grandmother. The story highlights the feelings of fear and isolation that refugee children experience and offers an insight into what it like for those children who become separated from their families on these journeys. Placing these two texts together invites comparison between the two events and offers a chance to discuss Europe’s response to the refugee crisis and the Christmas message of kindness and offering shelter to those in need. For a list of other children’s books on the topic of refugees which would also tie in with the Refuge book, see my previous blog post here.

 

Walk This World at Christmas Time

       

Another Christmas book which offers an understanding of the world and different cultures is Walk the World this Christmas Time by Debbie Powell (Templar). The book illustrates multicultural Christmas celebrations around the world and readers are invited to guess which countries the text and illustrations are describing. The book also takes the form of an advent calendar with 25 flaps to lift which reveal traditions unique to each place. And to make my final link to the theme of refuge, one of the flaps in this book reveals that in Mexico children dress as Mary and Joseph and go from house to house asking to be let in! This is a beautifully designed book full of interesting tidbits about Christmas from the four corners of the globe.

 

Christmas competitions

I have come across two excellent competitions where you have the opportunity to win a pile of children’s books.

The Booktrust website features an advent calendar this month with a highly recommended children’s book revealed behind each window. You can win all 24 books featured in the calendar by answering a simple question on the site. You must enter your answer by Dec 17th to be in with a chance to win.

The people at Bags of Books in Lewes are also running a great competition and this one is specifically aimed at teachers and school librarians. To win £50 worth of books chosen from their website, send an email to bagsofbooks@bags-of-books.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Win £50 of Children’s Books before Christmas!’ and give them the title of a children’s book that you think is outstanding with 1 or 2 lines about why you love it and why you think other teachers will too. It might be an old classic, or a new favourite, something that your pupils’ request time and again, or perhaps a book you’ve seen change a young person’s attitude to reading. They will pick 4 teachers (or librarians), who e-mail with a book recommendation before 20th December, to win £50 worth of children’s books!

Good luck everyone, and to all our blog readers, Merry Christmas and enjoy the break!

 

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