I love Christmas and in many ways, I am still a kid at heart (more looking at life with excitable eyes way, not so much the tantrums).
So, it makes sense that among all the other things I love about the festive season that I really enjoy reading kids’ books about Christmas, to my nieces and nephews if they are around – a task made all the harder by COVID lockdowns this year; thank goodness for Zoom – or just for my own, life-feels-simpler-for-a-moment pleasure.
With that in mind I decided to assemble five newly-acquired Christmas kids’ books and read them through and do a mini one-paragraph review about what I like about them and why they make the season feel all the more cosy and special.
And yes, once we make it up to see my nieces and nephews this Christmas, I’ll be looking forward to reading them aloud and sharing the literary joy that comes at the most wonderful (reading) time of the year.
JINGLE BELLS (A Little Golden Book)
Inspired, it won’t surprise you to learn by the traditional Christmas carol we all love so much, Jingle Bells by Kathleen N. Daly, features a bear family happily dashing through the snow on, what else, a one-horse open sleigh, illustrated on a wondrously snowy backdrop that feels all your images of a cold Christmas rolled into one evocatively lovely series of drawings. While they chomp on plum pudding, Hubert the Horse, who were assured loves pulling the sleight is all merry and brightly spirited, as the townsbunnies of the rather pragmatically but accurately named Rabbit Warren who join the sleigh ride, followed Patrick Pig, Katie Kitten and a host of other friends. Ignoring the load limits of the sleight being exceeded for a second, they end up giving Santa a ride, he delivers all his presents, Christmas is saved, food is eaten and festive partying of the most delightful kind is had. The book is all about cosiness and belonging, all things we love about Christmas and which make the season so heartwarmingly wonderful.
WHAT DOES SANTA DO WHEN IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS?
I love this title! It makes it sound like Santa is sitting down for his annual performance review – quite who employs him is not clear but let’s just say he has a board of directors or something – and being quizzed about what he does for the 364 days of the year he is racing round the globe to deliver presents to all the children of the world. What Does Santa Do When It’s Not Christmas? is surprisingly coy on exactly what the big man in red is up to, but rather happily and entertainingly, it’s far more forthcoming on everyone else at the North Pole is doing, from the elves (getting toys ready with state-of-the-art software) to the Christmas Tree Angel (glitter and more of it, and yes, extra teddy bears too! Psst the bears suggested that one), from the snowmen who forget they can melt when they make summer plans in Paris, to Mrs Claus (cards to write, and lots of them!) and the reindeer who get the best lines of the book. In a gorgeously illustrated book that sticks to playful rhymes throughout, author Health McKenzie, noting that the reindeer have flown around the world in one night, “So really they’re far too exhausted to rhyme properly now, thanks very much.” That line is emblematic of a book that manages to be very Christmassy and mischievous, and thoroughly, laugh-inducingly entertaining all at once.
FIRE TRUCK SANTA
Much as everyone in Australia adores the idea of snowy Christmases and carols and Santa in a thick red suit, the reality for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere is that it’s summer when the festive season arrives and celebrating here therefore takes on a much different form. Fire Truck Santa by Mic McPickle (writer) and Nathaniel Eckstrom (illustrator) does a beautiful job of bringing the differences alive by featuring of the iconic parts of Christmas down under where local fire stations often bring Santa to community gatherings. Forget the sleigh since we have no snow – better to arrive on a big, red vehicle that’s so eagerly awaited by kids that, as the book observes, “They were gathered on the dry nature strip [the grass outside the house next to the footpath/sidewalk], patiently waiting for a special saint Nick!” This is Santa as anyone up north has never seen him, giving dogs bones, getting an engine leak sealed by a farm kid with duct tape and soldiering on with a fire truck that has clearly seen better days! The message of the story, where Santa suddenly finds himself without a ride is that Christmas is all about supporting each other and lending a hand which Aussies, especially in the country, witness every day through the volunteers like local firepeople who work on their behalf. Fire Truck Santa does a beautifully uplifting job of celebrating a festive icon here in Australia without which Christmas simply wouldn’t feel the same.
PADDINGTON AND THE CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
There is no such thing as too much of Michael Bond’s sublimely lovely creation Paddington Bear. Sweet, innocent and happily well-intentioned, he makes everything and everyone better, and that applies to Christmas as much as anything. In Paddington and the Christmas Surprise, illustrated with vividly-coloured and nostalgic warmth by R. W. Alley, we see Paddington get far more than he bargained for when he takes the Browns shopping at Barkridges store. His ride through the store’s Winter Wonderland is a bit of a letdown, as is visiting Santa and when the Browns have to beat a hasty retreat when the overly-officious store manager think they are altogether too much trouble – god bless Paddington but he brings chaos wherever he goes – it looks like Christmas is a bust for the lovable bear from Darkest Peru. But this is a Paddington story and so, things ends rather wonderfully, most especially with the gift given to the wellies-wearing bear by Santa who, as housekeeper Mrs. Bird observes, “knows exactly what everyone wants for Christmas”. This is the book to read, especially after almost two years of pandemic, if you’re feeling like life, and Christmas are one big disappointment; going on this festive adventure with dear old Paddington will remind you of how perfectly delightful things can be, especially when the most wonderful time of the year hasn’t quite lived up t expectations.
OLLIE’s CHRISTMAS REINDEER
This book is pure reassuring happiness. Ollie is a little girl who is awoken on Christmas Eve by a strange “jingle jingle jingle” noise that leads her outside – I’m guessing the parents are passed out from too much port and cheese to notice her leave the house? – where she makes a reindeer friend who, to her surprise, takes her flying across the snowy night sky on a grand festive adventure across the world and back to her snug and cost bedroom. She may not meet Santa, and naturally the reindeer is one of the fabled eight, but she gets to do something extraordinarily special before waking the next morning to find the best present possible, one that will serve as a permanent reminder of a very special night before Christmas. Awash in the cutest, most evocative by author Nicola Killen, Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer is a hug made up of tinsel, fruit mince pies and Christmas trees, a book that celebrates how special Christmas can be, no matter what it is you get up to.