Breathing new life into old tropes
snow. Fiona Woodcock’s delicate pointillist images evoke the ethereal magic of both the original story and its setting.
Shirley Hughes’ Angel on the Roof (Walker Books, £12.99, 5+) also boasts a miracle. When an angel lands on the roof of Lewis Brown’s house, he is the only one who notices. However, the silent seraph has a strange effect on all the residents of Number 32 Paradise Street. The Sharples have stopped arguing, teenager Dan has taken his headphones out of his ears, and Miss Babs Ridezski has started singing, albeit in a foreign tongue. Here, Hughes’ gold and blue ink illustrations have a particular kind of urgency that lends itself well to the hallucinatory lilt of this Christmas story. “Blurred like a quick-pose life drawing”, they capture the movement of the angel as she brings Lewis on a journey that reminds him of the strength that can be found in difference.
Rory, the smallest reindeer in Santa’s herd of helpers, is also celebrated for his uniqueness in Natasha Mac a’Bháird’s Reindeer Down! (O’Brien, ¤14.99, 3+). He might not be strong enough to pull the sleigh, but he can slip down a chimney quicker than even the Big Man himself. When Dancer gets injured en route to Dublin and the sleigh is grounded, it is also Rory who finds a solution. He directs the travelling party to the Phoenix Park, where there are more than a few Irish deer happy to help. Illustrator Audrey Dowling brings the reader on a visual journey through the Irish landscape, offering aerial views of The Giant’s Causeway, Newgrange and Aras an Uachtaráin, as well as some very cute, smiling reindeer.
Christmas is an especially good time to share some of the best books of the year with young readers. 2019 saw the launch of Scallywag Press, who offered some gorgeous new titles to bookshop shelves. These include Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book (£12.99, 3+), which blends an accessible moral fable about inclusion with a pertinent political subtext that parents will enjoy, and Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit WhoListened (£12.99, 3+), which boasts gently expressive images and a template of tools for resolution when faced with inevitable disappointments. Publisher Stripes also brought attention to detail in their textured hard-backed publication of Two Sides ( £7.99, 6+) by Polly Ho-Yen, which uses shared narration to tell the story of fall-out and reconciliation between best-friends Lulu and Lenka.
Felicita Sala’s Lunch at Number 10 Pomegranate Street (Scribe, £16.99, all ages) shares the cultural traditions of an international community, with a unique blend of picture-book narration and recipes that children will enjoy testing with their parents. Mary Murphy’s
(Walker Books, £12.99, 2+) is also about fostering the parent-child relationship. The chorus perfectly evokes the circular nature of the child’s imagination, while Zhu Cheng-Liang’s striking, romantic paintings are full of amusing detail. Sophie Dahl’s Madame Badobedah (Walker Books, £12.99, 5+), with glorious watercolour illustrations from Lauren O’Hara, is full of exotic detail, as donkeyloving Mabel spies on the most mysterious resident at the Mermaid Hotel.
Thomas Taylor’s atmospheric Malamander (Walker Books, £6.99, 9+) is also set in a hotel, where the chief Lost and Founder, Herbert Lemon, is tasked with finding and killing the mythical sea-serpent who has been tormenting the town. Ben Clanton’s series (Egmont, £5.99, 6+) also has an underwater emphasis, with its graphic form and comic content proving particularly attractive for reluctant readers.
It is also worth remembering how attractive non-fiction titles can be for burgeoning bibliophiles who struggle with reading. Some of the year’s best include The Great Irish Science Book by Luke O’Neill (Gill Books, £24.99, 8+), which traverses vast galaxies and zooms in on microscopic details of the world around us, and John and Fatti Burke’s Countess Markievicz: The Rebel Countess and Brian Boru: The Warrior King (Gill Books, £9.99, 6+), which marry accessible fact and dynamic graphic imagery.
An illustration by Fiona Woodcock from Abi Elphinstone’s The Snow Dragon