Storytime: Then and now

When I was an early childhood teacher, my favourite part of the day was storytime. I loved choosing and reading picture books and chapter books to the children I was working with. It was a special time for them and for me as we shared the joys of reading together. Since moving into the library sector and commencing work in a public library, I have become involved in the storytime programme offered to our customers. It has been  interesting for me to discover how these sessions are similar to and yet different from those I took as a teacher.

Both are about sharing a love of books and are focussed on reading one or two picture books as a group. This supports early language and literacy skills (more on this in the next post), which are further developed through singing nursery rhymes and action songs. As an early childhood teacher, I had the luxury of a whole day in which to separate these activities into two group times; one for sharing books and another for singing together.

Storytime at the library with teddies!

Special Storytime

Pyjama Party by Mosman Library: CC BY 2.0

There are however a number of ways in which the two storytime sessions differ. The first is the audience. In a classroom, I was reading to a group of children, with perhaps a parent or assistant listening in. In the library environment, there are children (obviously!) in the group, but there are also adults: parents, carers, other library customers and staff. This can be a little uncomfortable as it feels much more like a performance than a shared experience! Related to this is the expectations of the parents and carers who come to the library with their children. I feel there are books I would happily read to a class which I couldn’t read to a storytime group for fear of offending or upsetting the adults (Doctor Dog by Babette Cole springs to mind, with the advice of “Don’t scratch your bum and suck your thumb” to prevent worms!). In addition, I think there are certain expectations around the craft activities which often accompany storytime sessions (again, I will be exploring this issue in an upcoming post).

There is also the difference in relationships between myself and the children present in the two settings. With each day spent with the children in the classroom, my knowledge of their personalities, backgrounds, interests and preferences grew, so that I knew which books would engage them and which ones would fall flat when read aloud to the group. This contrasts strongly with the children who attend the library storytimes. Whilst there is a core number who come most weeks, many come infrequently, making any relationships transient. This means it is harder to know what will work and what won’t. The age group of the children also differs between the two settings. In an early childhood classroom, the children are of the same age and developmental stage, which means, as the school year unfolds, it is possible to extend them through book choice, building more complex language and literacy skills. However, in a library storytime, the group is often multi-age, from about 2 to 5 years old, with a wide range of developmental stages from toddler to preschooler. This makes it more difficult to choose books, because of the different attention spans and comprehension skills. If I select a book to suit the younger members of the group, the older ones are unlikely to be challenged. However, I would lose the attention of the younger children if I read a longer, more complex story.

Sometimes you are required to wear a funny hat during storytime!

Despite the differences between the two storytimes, I are really enjoying being part of the early literacy programme in my library service. I know I am making a difference in the children’s futures, both at school and beyond. And that feels good. I am sure I will adjust to this new way of sharing books with young children and find ways to overcome the issues I have encountered.

Over the coming weeks, I will be exploring different aspects of storytime within a library setting, as well as providing links to resources and organisations that may be of benefit for those working in this area of library programming.

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Ten reasons to love libraries

In last week’s post, I quoted Joanne Harris’ Twitter thread on getting children to read. I have been inspired to write a similar list to celebrate National Library Week. So here are ten reasons to love libraries:

1. Libraries are free to join and free to use.

The library is like a candy store where everything is free.

Jamie Ford

2. Libraries are safe places for many people.

A library is not just a reference service: it is a place for the vulnerable. From the elderly gentleman whose only remaining human interaction is with library staff, to the isolated young mother who relishes the support and friendship that grows from a baby rhyme time session, to the slow moving 30-something woman collecting her CDs, libraries are a haven in a world where community services are being ground down to nothing.

Angela Clarke

3. Libraries contribute to a democracy by enabling anyone to access knowledge and information.

The library is central to our free society. It is a critical element in the free exchange of information at the heart of our democracy.

Vartan Gregorian

4. Libraries open their doors to everyone, regardless of background.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it.

Neil Gaiman

5. Libraries contain resources that promote learning and enjoyment.

The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.

Carl T. Rowan

Public Library

Wallsend District Library, NSW by State Library of NSW Public Library Services: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

6. Libraries provide programmes and activities that build skills, expand minds and form connections between people.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.

Sidney Sheldon

7. Libraries build a sense of community, both within their walls and outside in the wider world.

The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community.

Paula Poundstone

8. Libraries enable patrons to access digital technology and resources, thereby bridging the digital divide and allowing greater equality of opportunity.

We must also promote global access to the Internet. We need to bridge the digital divide not just within our country, but among countries. Only by giving people around the world access to this technology can they tap into the potential of the Information Age.

Al Gore

9. Libraries encourage a love of reading for all ages through the provision of resources and services.

Libraries are the future of reading.

Courtney Milan

10. Libraries have wonderful staff, who are knowledgable, friendly and helpful.

Librarians are the coolest people out there doing the hardest job out there on the frontlines. And every time I get to encounter or work with librarians, I’m always impressed by their sheer awesomeness.

Neil Gaiman

Public Library

Brown Library by VWCC Media Geeks: CC BY-NC 2.0

Neil Gaiman expresses the value (and importance of libraries) wonderfully:

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

So head down to your local library and enjoy all that it has to offer!

Getting children to read

This week, on April 2nd, it was International Children’s Book Day. Established by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a non-profit organisation bringing children and books together, its aim is “to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books” (IBBY, n.d.). Last year the theme was Let Us Grow With the Book; this year, it is The Small is Big In a Book. On Twitter, #InternationalChildrensBookDay has generated tweets celebrating all that is wonderful about children’s books.

Let’s celebrate children’s books!

Children's Books

Image by AnnieSpratt: CC0 1.0

Inspired by International Children’s Book Day, the fabulous Joanne Harris posted a thread on Twitter about getting children to read. Here are her suggestions:

1. Read aloud to your children as regularly as you can. It’s the best way to interest them in reading from an early age.

2. Let them see YOU reading for pleasure. If you don’t read, how can you expect your children to do it for themselves?

3. Talk about the stories you enjoy-in books, in films, in games, on TV, in the papers. Make your children aware of the scope of their own imaginations.

4. Stop thinking of your child’s reading as an achievement to be graded. Make it a pleasure, and your child will develop happily, at their own pace.

5. Never present reading as a duty, or a chore, or a punishment. That’s a surefire way to put your child off reading forever.

(Harris, 2018)

Reading for pleasure, anytime, anywhere…

6. Never criticize your child’s choice of reading material. Whatever it is-comics, magazines, encyclopaedias, or something you consider to be trashy or worthless-be grateful that they’re reading at all.

7. Is your child reading something that you consider to be problematic? Don’t worry. If they read widely, the other things they’re reading will counterbalance whatever it is. Or use the opportunity to discuss the book with them, non-judgmentally.

8. Never, EVER use phrases like “the classics” or “quality fiction”. It makes books sound boring, elitist and old.

9. If your child is a reluctant reader, try reading them the start of a really exciting book, then being “called away.” Leave the book lying around. Or tell them about an exciting book, before saying; “but it’s not really suitable for kids.”

10. E-books. Comics. Audiobooks. Fan fiction. Non-fiction. These things are ALL books. Let your kids choose what they want to read. And never, EVER allow the words “proper books” to pass your lips.

(Harris, 2018)

Caught reading…

This advice echoes that of Neil Gaiman, which I included in my post about reading for pleasure. As parents, educators and librarians, we can use these suggestions to encourage the children we know to catch the reading bug. In this way, all young people, regardless of their background and circumstances, will come to love books and the magic contained within their pages.

Picture books about love

Having started February with a post about Library Lovers Day, I thought I’d end the month with a selection of picture books about love. I have decided to focus on the concept of love (what it is and what it feels like), rather than the reasons for love (I love my mummy because…). Interestingly, almost all the books I have chosen use animal characters to explain what love is. Sometimes big ideas or themes are presented in this way because it makes it less overwhelming for young children. They are still able to relate to the content, but can do so from a distance.

Picture Books About Love

No Matter What
Written and illustrated by Debi Gliori

No Matter What

“I’ll always love you, no matter what…”

“No matter what?” Small asks. But what if he turns into a bug, or a crocodile, or even a grizzly bear? Small has all sorts of questions about love, and his mummy must reassure him that her love will never, ever run out.

This is a fabulous book about unconditional love. Small is in a bad mood and bangs and crashes and breaks things. When Large asks him what is the matter, he says, “I’m a grim and grumpy little Small and nobody loves me at all”. But Large reassures him that “Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you no matter what”. Small then asks if Large will love him if he is a bear or a bug or a crocodile. To which Large replies, “I’ll always love you no matter what”. The last few pages contain bigger questions about love: does it break and does it go on after you die. Large responds to the last question with wise words:

“Small, look at the stars-how they shine and glow,
but some of those stars died a long time ago.
Still they shine in the evening skies
love, like starlight, never dies.”

No Matter What is beautifully written and illustrated by Debi Gliori, who has created many brilliant children’s books. Her pictures are full of little details that enhance the reading experience for both children and adults. Large and Small also feature in the book, Stormy Weather.

Love Is You and Me
Written and illustrated by Monica Sheehan

Love Is You And Me

This adorable book, by bestselling author Monica Sheehan, helps us to remember that LOVE-whether between a parent and child, best friends, or even a dog and a mouse-is the greatest gift of ALL.

This rhyming book shows us what love is. Each double-page spread covers an aspect of love; “Love is sweet. And love is grand!…It’s a smile in your heart. It keeps us together when we’re apart”. The accompanying images of a dog and a mouse clearly reinforce each phrase. There is lots of white space around the words and pictures, making it appealing to children. A very accessible and enjoyable book about a big concept!

Monica Sheehan has also written and illustrated another book featuring the two characters from Love Is You and Me. Entitled Be Happy!, it is “a little book for a happy you and a better world” (Simon & Schuster, 2018) and complements this book about love perfectly.

I Love You Too
Written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

I Love You Too

You love me and I love…you too.

I love Stephen Michael King’s work, both as a writer and an illustrator. In this simple book, four friends spend time together whether “the world is filled with sunny days…windy days [or] rainy days”. They roll down a hill, look at the stars, fly a kite and jump in puddles. Love is about being together and sharing experiences; “Whatever the weather, there’s something I know, you love me and I love…you too”.

Stephen Michael King has illustrated a number of children’s books by writers such as Margaret Wild and Glenda Millard. He is also the author and illustrator of the fantastic (and very moving) Mutt Dog, as well as the creator of two Snail and Turtle books.

Love
Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd

Love

Love is in the morning when you wake and smile at me.
Love is when we talk together, happy as can be.

One little rabbit finds love everywhere, but knows that a mummy’s love is always the best love of all.

Another beautiful book with simple illustrations and rhyming text. Some of the pictures are also highlighted with gold, making them even more appealing to young children. Like Love Is You and Me, a different aspect of love is introduced on each double-page spread; “Sometimes love is quiet and it needs no words at all. Love is there to catch you when you are about to fall”. This is a lovely book to share with a child.

Like Stephen Michael King, Emma Dodd has been both an illustrator for other writers and for her own work. She has created the Dot and Dash series about a dog and a cat and has also illustrated the Amazing Baby series of interactive books.

Love Is My Favourite Thing
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

Love Is My Favourite Thing

Plum has lots of favourite things-catching sticks, her bear and her bed, but really, LOVE is her absolute favourite thing.

She loves her family, and they love her. But trouble loves Plum too, and sometimes she just can’t help doing slightly naughty things.

I love Plum (also know as Plummie)! And I love this book by Emma Chichester Clark about her dog, who has her own blog called Plumdog Blog (hilarious and well worth checking out). This story is told from Plummie’s perspective (as is the blog). She begins by listing all the things she loves, but love is her favourite thing. However trouble likes Plummie and she ends up jumping in the duck pond, ripping a cushion and grabbing someone’s bag (well, it did have an ice-cream in it!). After being told off by her mummy, she is afraid that she will no longer be loved; “My whole world was black. I stared at the darkness. I knew they wouldn’t love me anymore”. But of course they do! Because, like No Matter What, this book is about unconditional love.

Emma Chichester Clark is the creator of the Blue Kangaroo and Melrose and Croc series. She has also illustrated a number of classic children’s stories, including Pinocchio, James and the Giant Peach and Greek Myths. And there are several more Plumdog books featuring the irresistible Plummie.

You Can Never Run Out Of Love
Written by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Ali Pye

You Can Never Run Out Of Love

You can run out of biscuits…
And you might run out of milk…
Or clean socks.
You can run out of money, and ideas, and energy.
But you can never, never, run out of love.

A joyful and tender story of the everyday, extraordinary love that inspires us to help friends and reach out to strangers.

Love that will never run out.

This is a wonderful book about an important aspect of love (and one that children often find tricky when it comes to friendships): the limitless nature of love. The words and pictures complement one another as they show the different things that we can run out of: biscuits, bread, energy, chocolates, socks, time, money and patience. Unlike all these finite things, “you can never (no never, not ever), you can never run out of love”. This is because “love doesn’t come in a bottle or jar” and “you don’t have to charge it”. And of course, paradoxically, “whenever you give some, you’ll always have more”. This book would make a great starting point for a discussion about love and friendships.

Helen Docherty has written a number of children’s books, most of which have been illustrated by her husband, Thomas. As an illustrator, Ali Pye has worked with authors including Rose Impey and Jill Lewis. Her book, Copy Cat, was published in 2016.

The Love In My Heart
Written by Tim Bugbird and illustrated by Nadine Wickenden

The Love In My Heart

Join Big and Boo as they journey home and discover that anything is possible with a heart full of love.

I particularly like the illustrations in this book. Hearts have been incorporated into the pictures as leaves, raindrops and clouds. Children would enjoy finding them on each page, adding another element to the reading experience. This book is also interesting in that it is about the way we view things when we look at them with love. Thunder becomes a song and flowers smell wonderful. Boo, the little rabbit, finds that the journey home is better when it is made with someone you love. Tim Bugbird and Nadine Wickenden have also worked together on another children’s book: The Perfect Gift.

I hope you have enjoyed this collection of books about love. Maybe they have inspired you to move beyond the “I love my mummy, because” books into the more profound and meaningful books about the nature of love. These are perfect for building compassionate and caring young children (and adults!).

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

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International Book Giving Day

This Wednesday, February 14th, is not just Library Lovers Day, but also International Book Giving Day. First conceived in 2012, this volunteer initiative is now held in over 30 countries. The aim is “to get books into the hands of as many children as possible… [thereby] increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books” (International Book Giving Day, n.d.). The International Book Giving Day website provides three easy ways to celebrate the day, while their Facebook page allows you to connect with others who are participating in the event. There are also a number of resources available for use, including bookmarks, bookplates and posters. This year, these have been created by Elys Dolan, a children’s author and illustrator from the UK. They are fabulous and free to download from the website.

International Book Giving Day 2018 poster by Elys Dolan

Book Giving Day

Image used with kind permission of International Book Giving Day

So get involved by buying or donating a book to a child. They might just catch the reading bug as a result of your kindness. Whatever you choose to do, have a happy International Book Giving Day (and Library Lovers Day) on Wednesday!

 

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Love letter to a library

In February, there are several events to celebrate the love we have for both libraries and books. In Australia, one of these is Library Lovers Day, which is held on February 14th. An initiative of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the theme this year is love letters to libraries and focuses on “the love that we all hold for libraries and how they help to shape our national identity” (ALIA, n.d.). With that in mind, here is my love letter to the library of my childhood…

Askew Road Library

Dear Askew Road Library,

You captured my heart from the moment I walked through your doors as a small child. You weren’t grand or beautiful like some of the other libraries in Hammersmith. In fact you were quite unassuming and plain. You may not have been much to look at, but inside you were rich with treasures. And I loved you. You opened up a world of imagination and knowledge to me. I spent hours with you, browsing your shelves and finding a quiet spot to read. I have so many happy memories of growing up with you. Although there have been many other libraries since we first met all those years ago, you have always had a special place in my heart.

Thank you for being a big part of my reading journey and for sharing your books with me.

The ALIA website contains ideas and resources for celebrating Library Lovers Day in your library. There are also a series of love letters written by Australian authors, such as Jackie French and Natalie Jane Prior. Here’s a very funny one from Tony Wilson, who wrote The Cow Tripped Over the Moon and Hickory Dickory Dash

Love Letter

Image used with kind permission of ALIA

Join in the fun and celebrate all that is wonderful about libraries. Maybe you could write your own love letter to a library or go on a blind date with a book. Whatever you choose to do, let your library know how much it is valued and appreciated.

Guest post: Olivia’s top five favourite books

To kick off the New Year, we have another guest at Tales From The Children’s Library. I’ve invited Olivia, my seven-year-old niece, to share her five favourite books with you. Over to you, Olivia…

Here are my top five favourite books:

Olivia's Books

1. Up the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover)

Up The Faraway Tree

One day, Robin and Joy read about the Magic Faraway Tree in a book and decide to go meet Joe, Beth and Frannie themselves. The five children have all sorts of exciting adventures together, including being captured by the Enchanter Red-Cloak in the Land of Castles, a birthday treat for Joy in the Land of Wishes, and a delicious visit to the Land of Cakes!

It’s a book that is funny and cool at the same time. It makes me happy when I read it. My favourite character is the squirrel that brings the cushions up the tree. He is really cute.

This is the fourth book in The Faraway Tree series, the first two being The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree.

2. The Folk of the Faraway Tree
Written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Mark Beech (cover) and Jan McCafferty (interior)

The Folk Of Faraway Tree

Stuck-up Connie refuses to believe in the Faraway Tree-until Joe, Beth and Frannie take her to the Land of Secrets and the Land of Treats!

But then the tree starts dying, and nobody knows what’s wrong. How can they save the magical Faraway Tree?

This book makes me laugh and it makes me feel happy. My favourite story from it is ‘Up the ladder-that-has-no-top’.

This is the third book in The Faraway Tree series.

3. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

I like this book because when I was little, we used to read it a lot and I like the illustrations. My favourite page is going into the big dark forest.

4. Violet and the Hidden Treasure
Written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor

Violet And The Hidden Treasure

Can you solve the case of the hidden treasure?

Violet has spent her holiday exploring India, including visiting the beautiful palace of the eccentric Maharajah where she meets his very special cockatoo. But when she returns home, Violet is surprised to receive a visit from the Maharajah’s butler, asking her to look after the bird. Because the cockatoo holds the secret to the Maharajah’s fortune, and someone is trying to bird-nap her to claim the treasure!

Can Violet discover who the culprit is?

In this book, Violet has to solve the mystery of the hidden treasure, which is a cockatoo. I like it when Violet finds the cockatoo. The characters in the story are Violet, Rose, Art, Angel and Rajesh.

This is the second book in the Violet series, the others being Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, Violet and the Smugglers and Violet and the Mummy Mystery. The next installment, Violet and the Mystery of Tiger Island, will be released in July 2018.

5. Harper and the Night Forest
Written by Cerrie Burnell and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Harper And The Night Forest

When Harper and her friends visit the mysterious Night Forest, their plan is to capture the magical Ice Raven. But little by little the fairy tale secrets of the forest come to light. The children soon realise what it would mean if the Ice Raven left the enchanted woods for ever…

I like this book because it’s a very mysterious book. My favourite character is Smoke the wolf (mine too), because wolves are one of my favourite animals. Harper is a girl from the circus of dreams. She has a magic umbrella and a cat called Midnight. She goes on adventures with her friends, Nate, Liesel and Ferdie.

This is the third book in the Harper series, the others being Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, Harper and the Circus of Dreams, Harper and the Fire Star and Harper and the Sea of Secrets.

Thank you, Olivia for sharing your favourite books with us. Maybe she’s inspired you to try a new book or author!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb of the book.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Image by monicore: CC0 1.0

I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year. May it be filled with peace, love and goodwill…and continued recognition of the importance of libraries! I look forward to sharing more ideas, information and, of course, books with all you lovely readers in 2018.

 

Twelve Books of Christmas: Part II

Continuing with the festive celebrations, here are six books to complete the Twelve Books of Christmas. Again, I have chosen some for their rituals, some for their meaning and some for the story they tell about the birth of Jesus.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Coming Home
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

Coming Home

A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lightning. Across frozen wastes, huge mountains and stormy seas he flies. And all the while he’s dreaming of home. Of her. But will he ever get there?

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a robin journeying from the cold, dark forest across mountains and seas to be his lady love again. Michael Morpurgo’s text reads like poetry, with lyrical turns of phrase conveying a range of emotions. I found myself willing the robin on as he battled the elements and predators to reach home. The last page of the book contains facts about robin migration.

I have included several books by Michael Morpurgo on previous book lists, because his work is outstanding. This book is no exception, but it does differ in that the writing is more poetic and evocative. The focus is on the words and images they convey, rather than the storyline. This is the first book that Kerry Hyndman has illustrated. She has also worked with David Long on Survivors.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Mog’s Christmas
Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr

Mog's Christmas

Strange things are happening at Mog’s house. So she runs up on the roof and there she stays…until she returns to the house with a bump!

I love the Mog books! Perhaps it’s because they remind of growing up in Britain in the 1970s (all funky clothes and decor). Perhaps it’s the gentle humour and warmth found within the pages. In this book, Mog is put out by the preparations for Christmas: baking and decorating the house. But when Mr Thomas arrives with the Christmas tree, she is terrified and runs up the side of the house and onto the roof. Nothing can coax her down. Then the snow melts and she falls down the chimney, just like Father Christmas! After a bath, Mog is ready to enjoy the festivities with her family.

Between 1970 and 2002, Judith Kerr wrote sixteen Mog books, ending with the emotional Goodbye Mog. Then in 2015, after a break of thirteen years, she collaborated with Sainsbury’s to create a new Christmas story about Mog; Mog’s Christmas Calamity. It was accompanied by an advert featuring a CGI Mog, who saves the day (again). It was wonderful to see one of my favourite cats brought to life on the small screen!

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Great Joy
Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Great Joy

Deep in the purple dusk of winter, a monkey and an organ grinder appear on the corner of Fifth and Vine. Frances watches the monkey hold out his silver cup to the busy passersby. Sometimes, when the traffic is very quiet for just a minute, she can hear the organ’s sweet, sad music.

But Frances is troubled when she notices that the man and the monkey are still on the street late at night. Where do they sleep? She can’t stop thinking about them, even while she’s practicing her line and getting her costume ready for the local Christmas pageant. When the moment finally comes for Frances to speak, the gift of compassion allows her to share the perfect words with everyone, at just the right time.

Great Joy celebrates the generosity and kindness associated with the festive season. Frances watches the organ grinder and his monkey from the window of her apartment. She worries about where they go at night, especially now it is snowing. She stays up at night and sees them still on the street corner in the cold. When she asks her mother if they can come for dinner, she is told, “No…They’re strangers”. On her way to the Christmas pageant, in which she plays the part of an angel, Frances puts a coin in the monkey’s cup and invites them both to the church to see the play. Then, as she is about to deliver her line, “at the back of the sanctuary, a door opened” and in walks the organ grinder and his monkey. This beautiful story shows us how a child can embody the spirit of Christmas and set an example for those adults around her.

Kate DiCamillo has been awarded the Newbery Award twice and is best known for her children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses. Great Joy is her first picture book. She also collaborated with Bagram Ibatoulline on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The Christmas Eve Ghost
Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes

The Christmas Eve Ghost

When Bronwen and Dylan are frightened by ghostly noises on Christmas Eve, they run straight into the arms of their neighbour, Mrs O’Riley. Stepping next door for the first time, what will they find on the other side of the wall?

1930s Liverpool is brought alive in this inspiring tale that recognises the richness of human kindness, even in times of hardship and poverty.

In this book, Shirley Hughes recalls growing up in Liverpool in the 1930s. Bronwen and Dylan have moved with their Mam from Wales to Liverpool after the death of their Da. Although they live next door to the O’Rileys, the family keep to themselves, with Mam working hard as a laundress. One Christmas Eve, Bronwen and Dylan are left alone whilst Mam finishes her shopping. After she leaves, the children hear a strange noise coming from the wash house. Afraid it might be “that horrid ghostie coming down the chimney”, they run out screaming into the street, straight into the arms of Mrs O’Riley. She takes care of them until Mam comes home and discovers the kindness of her neighbours. One of the things I love about this book is the way Shirley Hughes weaves into the story information about the work undertaken by a laundress before the washing machine and steam iron were invented. I have a number of ancestors who took in laundry in the ‘old days’, so to see what that actually involved is very humbling.

I love the work of Shirley Hughes. Her illustrations evoke days gone by, whilst her stories, although simple in terms of their plots, contain a depth of emotion and gently challenge how we view the world and one another.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle
Written by Glenda Millard and illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Applesauce And The Christmas Miracle

One orange evening, tiger-striped with blackened trees, a pig sat, reminiscing…

Against a rural Australian setting of drought and bushfire, a little pig called Applesauce learns that Christmas comes from the heart.

This is a touching story set in the Australian bush. Paralleling the Nativity, it tells how a bushfire destroyed Joe and Marigold’s house, forcing them to live in the shed with the blistered door. Their pig, Applesauce, feels “it would be a miracle if Christmas came at all”, as there will be no celebrations, no special dinner and no gifts this year. Then, high on the hill, the Shepherds see a star above the shed and head down through the burnt-out bush to visit them. On Christmas Day, Marigold’s three aunties arrive, bearing gifts: a plum pudding, some shortbread and a crate filled with hay. Into this, Marigold places her newborn baby. When Applesauce sees the infant, she feels something change inside her as she lets “Christmas fill her heart”. Just wonderful!

I love the work of both Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King. They have created a number of books together, including the Kingdom of Silk series. Glenda Millard has written a range of books from picture books through to ones for young adults. Her latest one, The Stars At Oktober Bend, was a Notable book in the Older Readers section of the 2017 CBCA awards. As an author and illustrator, Stephen Michael King is responsible for, amongst others, the delightful Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat and the wonderful Mutt Dog.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Little One, We Knew You’d Come
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jackie Morris

Little One, We Knew You'd Come

Evokes for children the excitement of the day they were born–and the wonder of the birth of God’s baby son.

Little One, We Knew You’d Come will touch new parents and children alike. Jackie Morris’ beautiful illustrations and the lilting, lyrical text bring this beloved story vividly to life. A celebration of life and the miracle of birth. It is a classic, simple retelling of the Christmas story that can be read at Christmas, and on every child’s birthday, as well.

(Synopsis by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

This is the story of the Nativity told from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. As with any good picture book, the reader gains as much from the illustrations as from the text. The gorgeous images from Jackie Morris perfectly complement Sally Lloyd-Jones’ poetic language and gentle refrains (“On the day that you were born” and “Little one, we knew you’d come”). There is much for children and adults to share and discuss in the pictures and the storyline. I would also highly recommend The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas, as a companion to Little One, We Knew You’d Come.

On her website, Jackie Morris talks about how Little One, We’d Knew You Come became The Newborn Child when she regained the rights to the images. Both books tell the story of Jesus’ birth without mentioning him, although anyone familiar with the Nativity will recognise the characters and events. What I like is the intimacy and love present on every page, with the focus on, as Jackie Morris says, “the waiting, the hoping, the dreams and desires” (Morris, n.d.).

I hope you have enjoyed the Twelve Books of Christmas. I would like to wish you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas. May it be filled with love and laughter.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

 

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Twelve Books of Christmas: Part I

To celebrate the festive season, I’ve chosen twelve books about Christmas. Some are about the rituals associated with this festival: the tree, the presents and the food. Others focus on the meaning behind this special time of year: hope, peace and love. And of course, I’ve included several that tell the story of the first Christmas.

Twelve Books Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Queen Victoria’s Christmas
Written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Queen Victoria's Christmas

There’s a mystery in the palace.
What can it be?
There are lots of spicy smells…and a large green tree!

Join Queen Victoria’s dogs as they discover the magic of Christmas in this hilarious new royal adventure by award-winning duo Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

This wonderful book, which is a companion to Queen Victoria’s Underpants, tells how the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. In the palace, the dogs and the parrot are excited by the sights, sounds and smells of the festive season. But they are puzzled by the arrival of a large tree. The mystery is solved on Christmas Day when they discover the tree has been decorated with tinsel, candles and baubles. The family exchange presents and sit down together for a feast. But under the flap on the final page, we discover the dogs are already enjoying their Christmas dinner!

Jackie French is a well-known Australian author, who has written over 170 fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She was the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014 and 2015, during which time she advocated for “the right for every child to be guided to the books they’ll love” (Jackie French, n.d.). She has worked on a number of books with Bruce Whatley, including Pete the Sheep and the much-loved Diary of a Wombat. As an author and illustrator, Bruce Whatley has created picture books including  The Ugliest Dog in the World and the Christmas story, The Little Drummer Boy.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers
Written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers

Slinky Malinki, the most rapscallion cat of all, is watching and waiting in the shadows while the glimmering, shimmering Christmas tree is decorated. Will he be able to resist the twinkle and tinsel of the glorious, tempting tree?

Even at Christmas, Slinky Malinki is up to mischief. He destroys the beautifully decorated Christmas tree as “he knotted the tinsel and swatted the bell, he batted the baubles and trinkets as well”. After the family put everything back in place, they discover the fairy is missing from the top of the tree. But Slinky Malinki knows how to fix that!

As usual, Lynley Dodd’s rhyming is spot-on. This book, like her others, is a joy to read out loud. I particularly love her use of more complex words, ones that are often not seen in picture books for younger readers: magnificent, mischievous, glorious and smothery. Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers can be enjoyed alongside the four other books about the adventurous black cat.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas
Written and illustrated by David Melling

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas finds a new magical friend on his hunt for the PERFECT Christmas tree.

Hugless Douglas is a bear “full of hugs”. In this book, he enjoys the snow with his friends, the Funny Bunnies and Little Sheep. Whilst playing in a winter wonderland, they meet Rudi the blue-nosed reindeer, who uses Christmas magic to make a tree. At the end of the book, there are two pages of things to do at Christmas time. Each page also has Little Robin on it for readers to find. I love the humour in this book, which is conveyed through both the text and illustrations.

Hugless Douglas has his own website, which includes fun stuff for younger readers and links to an interactive book app. There are a number of other Hugless Douglas books, including the one that introduced the lovable bear to the world: Hugless Douglas. David Melling has illustrated over 60 fiction and picture books and has worked with well-known authors, including Vivian French, Ian Whybrow and Francesca Simon.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Shooting at the Stars
Written and illustrated by John Hendrix

Shooting At The Stars

Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing that evening and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a true story that John Hendrix wonderfully brings to life, interweaving his detailed illustrations with hand-lettered texts. His telling of the story celebrates the kindness and humanity that can persist during even the darkest periods of our history.

This moving and thought-provoking book tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when the Allied and German soldiers, who had been fighting one another on the Western Front, laid down their arms and came together in No Man’s Land on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Through a letter written by a fictional soldier, Charlie, to his mother, John Hendrix details what life was like in the trenches: mud, rats and artillery fire. He then describes how the soldiers on both sides set aside their weapons to sing, play football and bury their dead. The feelings of the men are expressed by one of the Germans; “Why can’t we just go home-and have peace?” The themes and illustrations make this story suitable for older readers. There is also additional information about the conflict at the beginning and end of the book. It could easily form the basis for discussions around the issues of war and peace and is highly relevant as we head into the centenary year commemorating the end of the First World War.

John Hendrix has written and illustrated his own books, including Miracle Man and John Brown, as well as illustrating the work of other writers, such as A Boy Called Dickens and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with Deborah Hopkinson.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Father Christmas
Written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas

Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, this classic picture book has been treasured by generations for more than thirty years. Raymond Briggs’s irreverent look at Christmas is one of his best-loved picture books.

Despite being over 40 years old, Father Christmas is still enjoyed by children and adults today. Its comic-book format makes it readily accessible to reluctant and emerging readers. In an interesting article in the Guardian, Raymond Briggs shares how he made the book. His Father Christmas is reimagined as a real man doing the things that need to be done before delivering presents to children around the world: making a cup of tea, going to the toilet, getting dressed and having breakfast, whilst complaining about the weather (“Blooming cold!”). Then he sets off on his sleigh, which is pulled by two reindeer. I love the cut-away scenes where we can see into the houses as Father Christmas makes his way across roofs and down chimneys. And there is the gentle humour present throughout the book. A wonderful story to share with a child.

Raymond Briggs is a much-loved author and illustrator, who has been awarded both the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. His work includes The Snowman, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows. He also illustrated The Elephant and the Bad Baby, written by Elfrida Vipont, which is a firm favourite with young children because of all the naughtiness in the book!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

The First Christmas
Illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski

The First Christmas

The shepherds said one to another,
Let us now go to Bethlehem.
And they found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

The text for this book, which tells the story of the birth of Jesus, comes from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in the King James Bible. The illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski are stunning. Silver gilded branches stretch across each double-page spread bearing roses, mistletoe, holly or berries. The images accompanying each verse are composed of silhouettes against a coloured background. Despite the apparent simplicity of the solid black figures, Jan Pieńkowski effortless conveys movement and emotions, from the wonder of the Annunciation through to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. As with Shooting at the Stars, this book is perhaps best suited to older readers, as the language is beautiful but challenging. Another book I would highly recommend, but was unable to find in my local library, is Jane Ray’s The Story of Christmas. With equally stunning illustrations and biblical text, it would compliment The First Christmas perfectly.

Jan Pieńkowski is known for his distinctive silhouette illustrations, used in The First Christmas and The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken. He also worked with Helen Nicoll on the Meg and Mog series of picture books, which began in 1972 and are still in print today. Jan Pieńkowski also created a number of pop-up books, including the wonderfully scary Haunted House, a book I remember well.

Later this week I’ll share the other six books with you. Until then, enjoy your Christmas preparations. Just under one week to go!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.