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Festive book reviews

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Author: Jill Bennett, Posted: Saturday, 22nd December 2018, 09:00

Grandpa Christmas Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field

When one of my very favourite authors and favourite illustrators come together in a seasonal collaboration, the result is something special. It’s not just a Christmas book, but one for all times.

Narrator mum Mia tells how every Christmas she shares with her family a letter from her Grandpa, (sent one year instead of a Christmas card or present) kept safe in her diary. The reading of this letter, inspired by visits to his home from a much younger Mia has become part and parcel of their family day.

Grandpa’s letter tells of his deep concerns about our fragile planet and its wildlife. He talks of the rapid rate at which its precious resources are being depleted and makes a prayerful plea for a new world and time where “we grow and eat only what we need… and learnt to share all we have, so that no-one anywhere goes hungry again; a world without pollution and global warming, where wild animals live free, and war and waste are no more.”

Morpurgo’s poignant words are a powerful antidote to the gross consumerism and waste that the Christmas season has become, and a stark reminder of the original message of goodwill and giving.

Jim Field’s illustrations echo the deep sadness inherent in the text but at the same time bring out both the hopefulness in Grandpa’s heartfelt litany and the loving bond between Mia and her grandfather.

This treasure of a book is my favourite Christmas publication of the year.


How to Hide a Lion at Christmas Helen Stephens

It’s Christmas Eve and Iris and her beloved lion are eagerly anticipating spending Christmas together at Auntie Sarah’s.

But then her parents announce that the lion must remain behind. After all, a train journey with a large lion would be unthinkable and anyway he might frighten the local residents.

Seemingly no amount of hiding is going to work: Lion will be left all alone.
It’s an unhappy Iris who sets off to catch the train but unbeknown to her, they aren’t the only ones to leave the house.

A certain lion, having managed to hide himself during the train journey, falls fast asleep and remains so when Lucy and her family reach their station.
When he finally awakens from his slumber the train has reached the end of the line and there’s nobody about.
The lion’s not going to give up easily, but will he manage to locate the house where Iris is celebrating the festive season? And if so, how will he make his presence felt to her?

Yes, this story has a very snowy setting, but it’s full of warmth and humour and a lovely addition to the Iris and the lion-hiding series.


Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.


Silent Night Lara Hawthorne

One of the world’s favourite Christmas carols, composed 200 hundred years ago in Austria and now with UNESCO cultural heritage status, is given a beautiful pictorial rendition by author and illustrator Lara Hawthorne.

Her beautiful, richly patterned illustrations stand out against an inky, star speckled night sky tell the nativity story using just the English translation of Joseph Mohr’s words.

We see Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, settle themselves in the stable and the baby – the holy infant – is born. Thereafter come pages of the announcement of the birth to the shepherds by a host of angels and their visitation to see the Christ child.

The three kings journey following the star and their presentation of the gifts take up the next three spreads and in the final three we see animals of all kinds, drawn to the stable over which the star shines and joining the humans in a joyful celebration. Any one of these pages would make a superb Christmas card.

The book concludes with notes about the origins and the words (though not the music) of the carol.

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