Christmas is rescued! Great gifts for bookish children
A doubting Thomas, a young girl and a sheep save the day in our kids’ books round-up
Sammy Claws: The Christmas Cat
“ ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring” …. except for Jackson, the hero of The Night I Met Father Christmas (Simon and Schuster, £6.99,8+), who is awoken by the sound of a huge bang as Santa Claus lands on the roof above him.
“I’d always thought Father Christmas arrived quietly,” Jackson tells us, “but I couldn’t have been more wrong. No wonder he has to wait until everyone is fast asleep.” That isn’t the only surprising thing he discovers: Father Christmas is actually an elf who has an important moral to share with Jackson, who is struggling to maintain his belief in the magic of Christmas.
Ben Miller uses Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as inspiration for the story Father Christmas shares, about his own conversion from contrary curmudgeon to paragon of kindness. Miller structures the narrative as a piece of storytelling, with Jackson channelling the voice of Father Christmas himself, thanks to his “extraordinary memory … [which] means that when someone tells me something, I can repeat every single word in exact order, for ever.” Handy that. Santa’s transformational story is intercut with present-day action scenes, in which Jackson gets touched with a little bit of Christmas magic himself, and helps Father Christmas deliver his presents all across the world. The fast pace of the action – and the seasonal message – makes The Night I Met Father Christmas a great book for any young doubting Thomases in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
In Sammy Claws: The Christmas Cat by Lucy Rowland (Nosy Crow, £6.99, 3+) Father Christmas finds himself with an unexpected helper, too, in this case his pet cat, Sammy, who is “furry and purr-y and fluffy and fat” and full of good intentions that never quite work out. Sammy really wants to help get things ready for Christmas Eve, but every overture turns into disaster. Instead of wrapping presents he finds himself wrapped up in a present, and tossed into the sleigh. When Santa makes a rooftop stop, however, Sammy is in the perfect position to stop two robbers, who are intent on ruining Christmas. Rowland uses easy rhyme to create a singalong-style story, while Paula Bowles creates soft, snow-splattered spreads that are full of detail. Check out the patterns on all the wrapping paper, which comes in particularly handy as a ninja costume when Sammy is called upon to save the day. It is Sammy, of course, who is star of the show. With his big eyes and his heroic antics, he is a feline hero all young cat-lovers will adore.
Father Christmas finds himself in another pickle in Emily Brown and Father Christmas (Hodder Children’s Books, £12.99, 3+), a seasonal special from Cressida Cowell and illustrator Neal Layton. Here, Emily and her rabbit Stanley are called upon to “ho-ho-help” Saint Nick, who is hanging on a rope from Emily’s rooftop. Thankfully she has her Emergency-Rescue Machine to hand and she sucks Santa in through her bedroom window, but Emily’s assistance doesn’t end there. Santa may have the latest gadgets – a “most up-to-date sleigh” with “turbo-whatsits and jet-thingummys” – but Emily and Stanley will teach him that sometimes old-fashioned magic works best. Indeed, Emily may understand the true meaning of the season better than Santa does: “Being kind and helpful to others is what Christmas is all about.” Cowell is best-known for her books for older readers, but Emily Brown proves she understands younger readers and their delight in repetition, catchphrases and manageable disaster. Layton’s illustrations, meanwhile, literally pop off the page, with cut-out cartoon-style characters placed upon a watercolour and pencil-sketch background in an effective collage-inspired style.
In Ryan Tubridy’s The First Christmas Jumper (Walker, £7.99, 8+), a sheep who saves Christmas. Hillary is no ordinary heroine: she is a rainbow-coloured ewe with a love of lists, which makes Christmas an especially wonderful time of year for her. Here are just some the reasons she loves Christmas: “1. The smells (pine needles, cinnamon and fresh silage.) 2. The food (Selection boxes with different types of grass). 3. The presents (Hoof clippers, especially.) 4. The music (“Fleece Navidad” in particular.)” Her favourite fantasy is to become “Commander-in Sheep of [Santa’s] stupendous sleigh.” This might be pie-in-the-sky territory, but when Santa sets out to find some special wool for a new Christmas jumper, Hillary knows she has just what he needs.
Tubridy loves a good pun, and squeezes in wordplay at every opportunity, with the chapter titles, in particular, proving fertile ground for linguistic fun. The humour is perhaps directed more towards the adult reader, but young book lovers will find plenty to engage with, too. There are quirky characters (Didya the bird; Hillary’s chatterbox comrade, Brian; jelly-baby-popping Jimmy, the farmer), while Chris Judge’s illustrations give us a gloriously goofy flock of sheep. Hillary’s multicoloured difference, meanwhile, also provides a gentle fable to buoy the more generic message of Christmas kindness.
Finally there are jumpers galore, in glorious hues, in Jan Fearnley’s Little Robin Red Vest, published in a beautiful new 20-year anniversary edition from Nosy Crow (£6.99, 3+). In this classic picture book, Fearnley’s Little Robin embodies the very best of Christmas spirit, as he flies around wrapping up his forest friends against the frost. He gets a very special reward from Father Christmas, who gives him a tiny red jumper, which provides a splash of colour against his brown feathers. It is a lovely tale of origins that will take you beyond Christmas Day, providing extra impetus to birdwatching adventures in the new year.