Cracking Christmas Books

Christmas is a magical time of year and that magic is only enhanced by sharing festive books with those children in your life at home or in school. Below are some Christmassy recommended reads to share.

How Winston Came Home For Christmas – Alex T. Smith

Written in 24 and a half chapters, this book is designed to be read over the period of advent and I can see it becoming a Christmas tradition in our house. It is also good to read with any primary aged classes as well. If you follow Alex T. Smith on Twitter, I’m sure you’ll be kept informed of which day to start reading, depending on when you break up for Christmas.

Throughout the story Winston visits a number of European countries on his quest understand a vision he has had and his heritage. In each country he encounters a variety of indigenous creatures who are all exceptionally helpful and aid Winston in piecing together the clues he needs to complete his journey. We also learn about Christmas traditions from all over the continent.

As well as daily chapters during advent, there are also craft and recipe ideas for each day. These are all lovely and add to the magic of the book. The only downside is the pressure I put on myself to read a chapter with the children everyday. I find it hard enough to remember to always light the advent candle. Weekends are pretty good for catching up on a chapter or two though, and it really doesn’t detract from the overall loveliness of the story.

Father Christmas – The Truth – by Gregoire Solotareff

I love this book. Mostly because it’s really rather silly, but it also has many other qualities. It is a collection of ‘facts’ and stories about Father Christmas which are organised alphabetically. The book can be read in order, but you also can dip in and out of it, if you prefer. We’ve found it great for getting our young children to practice reading because there aren’t too many words on each page so they enjoy taking turns and making each other giggle.

So it’s a light-hearted, fun book that you can return to time and again, year after year. A perfect Christmas book really. Well worth adding to your collection.

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a master of his craft. He constructs stories brilliantly and each word is carefully chosen to induce a range of emotions in the reader. A Boy Called Christmas is the true origins story of Father Christmas (it really is, don’t argue) and it’s absolutely pack with festive magic and drimwickery.

While all does end well for Nikolas, the boy at the centre of the story, the book also has moments of real sadness and darkness. Like, at one point, when the boy unwittingly eats his only toy. Or when Nikolas is sent to the tower. To balance the darkness, there are also many warm and humorous moments.

A Boy Called Christmas is the first time Matt Haig introduces the characters of Miika the Mouse and the Truth Pixie, Both characters have gone on to be the central characters in others books, with the straight-talking Truth Pixie being a particular favourite of mine.

As well as a lovely story about Christmas, Haig also manages to mix in some social commentary about the media and how it controls and manipulates the world around us at time.

A Boy Called Christmas is my favourite Christmas book and it will take something very special to change that. I can’t wait to see the film.

Pick a Pine Tree – by Patricia Toht

The start of December, means it’s the start of Christmas books in assembly. Pick a Pine Tree is beautifully illustrated by Jarvis and charts the journey of selecting, decorating and enjoying the perfect Christmas tree.

By using this book we started conversations about why we bring trees into our homes and decorate at Christmas time generally. It was also great to discuss how we all have family traditions. Some are the same as everyone else, others unique to our families, all are special and help make Christmas a magical time of year.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

The is Matt Haig’s follow-up to ‘A Boy Called Christmas’, and it is filled with plenty more magic (or rather drimwickery). The first is an origins story for Father Christmas, and it’s good. Really good. And believable. It all makes sense and keeps to magic of Christmas very much alive for all children who read it.

In ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ the big man goes in search of a girl who has the most hope, to help restore the magic which makes Christmas possible. Unfortunately, the girl in question (Amelia) has had an extremely tough couple of years and proves difficult to track down and has also lost a lot of hope.

Haig skilfully and sensitively handles themes of loss, trust, love and hope and includes cameos from Charles Dickins and Queen Victoria, but it all works. We hoped and assumed it would all turn out alright in the end, but didn’t really know how it was going to get there until very near the end. It is a gloriously happy ending, but with another adventure to look forward to in the shape of ‘Father Christmas and Me’. Also, rather excitingly, ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ is being made into a film which will be released in December 2020. Can’t wait.

Dasher – Matt Tavares

This is the story of how Father Christmas began to use reindeer to help him deliver his presents instead of horses. Dasher and his family are stuck working for a travelling circus but he longs to escape and head north to the beautiful place his mother has often spoken of. When Dasher’s opportunity arises he quickly grasps his freedom. One thing leads to another and he ends up finding a better life for himself, his family and children all over the world.

Farther Christmas and Me – Matt Haig

This is the final instalment of Matt Haig’s Christmas trilogy and the festive magic is very much still alive in Elfhelm. We’ve read each of the books, in order, over the last 3 Decembers, and it’s been a lovely Christmas tradition we’re sad has come to an end.

On the surface, Father Christmas and Me, is another epic adventure for Amelia, who we met in the second book. She struggles to feel accepted in Elfhelm and find her place living amongst the elves. She thinks about leaving, but ends up trying to become a journalist, an honest one. For a timeless Christmas classic, this book is also pretty topical, exploring themes of immigration, fake-news, Trumpism (Vodalism) and nationalism.

Above all, Matt Haig is just a bloomin’ good writer. The arc of all three books are beautifully created and always leave the reader guessing how the loose ends will be tied up. The loose ends are tied up and although there are a lot of worrying moments throughout, hope always wins. What I particularly enjoy are the moments throughout the book that bring a wry or knowing smile.

Throughout the truth is important. The perceived truth and the actual truth are not always the same thing. But the Truth Pixie is on hand to make the distinction and, as with other Matt Haig books, she steals the show.

The first book, A Boy Called Christmas, has been made into a movie and will be released in November 2021. This means that our Christmas Matt Haig tradition can continued for one more year at least, but I very much hope that the other books will be made in to films as well.

Tom, age 7, says: “It was sometimes scary, but mostly fun. I liked that Amelia went back to London in the end and told the stories to the children in the orphanage that she had built. Father Christmas is my favourite character because he always tries to help everyone.”

A Mouse Called Miika – Matt Haig

We first came across Miika in ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ where he acts as a curious supporting character who narrates occasional thoughts about the extraordinary goings on that he witnesses. Released around the same time as the film of that book, A Mouse Called Miika gives a little more detail to the background of the mouse, but mostly focuses on events that happen shortly after the conclusion of the first book.

Miika is a friendly mouse with human, elf and pixie friends but only knows one other mouse – Bridget the Brave. Through the book, Miika tries to please Bridget and be a good mouse-friend but at the end realises that actually Bridget hasn’t ever really been a good friend to him. He realises, with the help of the ever-wonderful Truth Pixie, that he’s better off being disliked for who he is rather than being liked for who he isn’t.

As ever, Matt Haig writes fabulously constructed books for children with fantastic nuggets of wisdom interwoven for readers of all ages. I particularly liked the quote below which comes towards the end of the book. I can see myself using in when talking to Year 6 children before they move up to secondary school.

Tom, age 8, says: “I thought it was really interesting to listen to. He meets Bridget the Brave and to start off with it was a good relationship, then it wasn’t, then it was again, then it wasn’t again. Relationships can be like that sometimes. It was really courageous of Miika when he said that he was the cheese thief but sadly he got flattened by the troll’s foot. In the end he learned that it’s ok to be who you are and not try to be someone else. It’s a good message for children who read the book.

The Empty Stocking – by Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis, yes that Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings, Blackadder, Comic Relief, etc) is the author of this week’s Christmas book.

I’ll admit I was a little dubious when this book was recommended to me as I’m not overly keen on the whole, ‘if you’re naughty you won’t get any presents,’ thing. But it’s handled really well. The ‘naughty’ girl in the story often misbehaves for innocent, misguided or misunderstood reasons and in the end she is able to make the right choice and receive a stocking full of gifts.

Alfie’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

Shirley Hughes does heart-warming, nostalgic books, and if Christmas isn’t a time for heart-warming nostalgia, I don’t know when is. Dogger is an all-time favourite children’s book of mine (and my mum for that matter) and Alfie’s Christmas is another beaut.

It’s the countdown to Christmas and Alfie and his sister are preparing for the big day. They experience an exceptionally traditional English Christmas with all it’s chocolate-box awe and wonder.

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