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.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman
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…
Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr
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…
Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
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
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
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
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.