Christmas is the perfect time to share picture books with children; often old favourites are unearthed to bring back happy memories of previous years alongside new books bought as presents. I have selected some recent publications that I believe are destined to become cherished family treasures in years to come.
Dogger’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes
In 1977 Dogger, written by Shirley Hughes, was published and has since that time become a valued part of family life for many. Awarded the Greenaway Medal at the time and forty years later, thanks to a public vote, becoming ‘the Greenaway of the Greenaways’ its place in picture book history was assured and deserved.
Thanks to her book Lucy and Tom’s Christmas Shirley Hughes has become synonymous with Christmas for me and I suspect for others too. This year of all years to publish Dogger’s sequel and set it at Christmas time feels a little like wrapping yourself in the comfort blanket we all need at the moment. This is a nostalgic delight that will, I think, convert a new generation to this wonderful book creator.
The sequel sees Dogger’s owner, Dave, now a little older with a new brother Joe, still a toddler and of course the kind and resourceful Bella, his sister who saved the day in the original story. Dave now plays with slightly different toys but still loves his precious Dogger, especially at bedtime. Bella has matured a little, asking for new trainers from Father Christmas but still with a bed piled with teddies. There is much that is familiar in the opening pages as we watch the family preparing for Christmas. The crib, the tree, the paper chains and the stockings at the foot of the bed. The gorgeous illustrations shine with that warm glow so familiar from Shirley Hughes’s books. I’m sure I am not the only person who finds that pool of brightness from the street light and the lights shining from house windows as the family do their last minute shopping comforting.
Christmas Day itself is full of the exciting busyness one would expect. What I particularly like are the little touches that make this feel so real. When Bella and Mum visit their elderly neighbour with gifts Bella kneels down to play with the dog as Mum and the old gentleman share a cuppa. Meanwhile Dad is at home basting the turkey and Dave is playing with his new toys. There is a poignant moment when Grandma and Grandad arrive and are greeted with hugs, something denied to us this year. This story is full of the kindness and warmth that should be present at Christmas.
But what of Dogger while all this is going on? In all the excitement Dave has forgotten his old friend and is only reminded when he can’t find him at bedtime. Despite a family search Dogger is nowhere to be found and Dave must to go to bed without his beloved bedtime companion. Every child will identify with Dave’s sorrow and remorse and every parent with Mum and Dad’s anxiety and the reader will be eager for Dogger to be found. Will there be a happy ending? Bella has an idea!
This is a gorgeous book and I will treasure my own copy dearly.
The Twelve Days of Christmas or Grandma is Overly Generous by Alex T Smith
Five Gold Rings! That’s the line that everyone remembers and sings with gusto when ever this classic festive poem is performed. However, can you remember the rest? Alex Smith has come to your rescue with this joyous reimagining of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
In this retelling it is the remarkably flamboyant Grandma of little Eloise who is responsible for each gift and they start sensibly with the partridge in his pear tree and progress through the familiar presents but gradually things go a little awry and Eloise has to cope with a multitude of assorted and unwanted animals. Grandma’s generosity has got rather out of hand.
This small format hardback book is a fun filled package that would make a gorgeous present. The witty and detailed illustrations are a treat to savour and each time I return I notice something new. Eloise with her gap toothed smile and Edwardian dress conveys every emotion from happiness to concern via shock and bewilderment. The parcels have beautiful stamps and labels providing clues to the contents and the borders on the pages depict pears, holly, mistletoe and ribbons as though each page itself is a Christmas present. The illustrations of the various animals are hilarious. A family favourite is the worried looking balancing bear clinging on to his ice-cream!
My whole family aged 3 to 89 have delighted in this brilliant book. In fact the 89 year old said, “Children’s books are a work of art these days aren’t they.” Very wise. It is unexpected, hilarious, full of fantastic and intricate illustrations to explore and with a kind warmth that makes it a perfect book to share at Christmas time. A tribute to doting Grandmas everywhere which hits just the right note.
The Snowflake by Benji Davies
This magical book is really something special from the moment you pick it up. The cover with the title shining in gold lettering from a bed of snow and the image of the small girl her arm raised tenderly towards the floating snowflake catch the eye and also hint at the warmth contained in this quiet yet lyrical story. This beautiful book is another that would be a welcome find under the Christmas tree this year.
Beneath the dust cover the hardback bears a red embossed snowflake design which adds a traditional feel to this book and the snowflake, this time white on a red background is depicted on the end papers too. Yet when we meet the snowflake of the story she is small, with a slightly fluffy appearance and wears a timid smile. The reader follows the little snowflake on her journey, blown by the wind hither and yon all the time worried about falling. As the snowflake continues on her way we are introduced to Noelle and her Pappie as they walk through the city streets with their small dog. Turning the pages we alternate between the two stories of these different but equally endearing little characters. The snowflake eventually meets other snowflakes and draws comfort from belonging to a group doing the same thing. Meanwhile Noelle has been gazing at Christmas trees in the city windows and yearning for one of her own. As we read we are gradually drawn into their respective worlds and there is a gentle and kind tone to their different narratives that encourages the reader to care. Finally the two stories come together in an ending full of hopeful happiness that is extremely touching.
There is a softness to the illustrations and the golden tint suffusing the final pages is glorious and adds to the hopeful ending. My eye was drawn to the detail in the illustrations of the city and the landscapes which are atmospheric and appealing. This is a story with emotion simmering below the surface and I very much wanted to know Noellle’s back story. Benji Davies has conveyed a sense of the characters searching for something special and discovering that something special can be found in the every day. A thoughtful message at Christmas time.
The publishers Harper Collins have produced some seasonal activities linked to the book which are available to download here.
I should like to thank Clare Hall-Craggs and the publishers for my copies of Dogger’s Christmas and The Twelve Days of Christmas.
All three books can be bought online at Waterstones by clicking on the titles above or at your independent book shop which can be found here
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