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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - SARA KEAT­ING

“’Twas the night be­fore Christ­mas and all through the house, not a crea­ture was stir­ring” …. ex­cept for Jack­son, the hero of

(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 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 (Hod­der Chil­dren’s Books, £12.99, 3+), a

MetFatherChrist­mas The Night I Sammy Claws: The Christ­mas Cat Emily Brown and Fa­ther Christ­mas

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

(Walker, £7.99, 8+), it is 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 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.

Jumper The First Christ­mas Lit­tle Robin Red Vest,

Il­lus­tra­tions from Sammy Claws: The Christ­mas Cat (above) by Lucy Row­land, and The Night I Met Fa­ther Christ­mas by Ben Miller

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