Category Archives: Christmas

I Killed Father Christmas

Children! Don’t you just love them? (Well, I suppose you do, especially if they are yours.)

In this Little Gem Anthony McGowan shows us how easy it is to get the wrong idea. How you might end up believing you have killed Father Christmas. Poor Jo-Jo overhears his parents arguing, which leads him to the belief that Father Christmas is dead and it was all his fault for wanting too many Christmas presents.

Anthony McGowan and Chris Riddell, I Killed Father Christmas

This is a sweet tale of how easy it is to misunderstand, but it is mostly about how good children really are, once the excessive Christmas lists have been dispensed with. Jo-Jo will make sure it is Christmas after all.

And then, well, wearing his mum’s red coat, Jo-Jo does his thing, and Father Christmas does his bit, and with the help of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, we have ourselves a rather nice little book about what matters.

The question is, did Father Christmas really..?

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No Jo for me

There is what I consider to be a standard line at the bottom of most book press releases, which generally goes something like this: ‘For more information, review copies and interviews, please contact A Publicist.’

If it’s missing I reckon the author is too grand, too busy or possibly too dead for interviews. However, when I see that line, I take it to be mostly true.

Which is why I jumped a little on receipt of Jo Nesbø’s fifth Doctor Proctor book, which this time is about Christmas. I’ve read one Doctor Proctor, and consider that to be quite enough. And some of you might remember what my opinion of Jo is. (Based on one event and some gossip about him, like most prejudice.)

My brain went ‘no, I do not want anything to do with him. But maybe? After all, he’s really famous. Could be “interesting.” Nah, don’t be silly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be available. Except, it says so. And remember that time a few years ago when the man even set up a signing event on the Virgin train taking him from Manchester to Scotland? Clearly desperate for attention. He wouldn’t mind talking to a Bookwitch. I could do a bespoke version of my Profile questions. Maybe grill him a little on why he thinks he should write children’s books.’

That, roughly, was my thought process. So I asked. And not surprisingly, he wasn’t going to be available.

Which is fine. I just don’t feel the line should have been there.

He’s obviously not [that] desperate. In fact, as Pippi and I found at our recent Afternoon Tea, we had both read the magazine snippet where someone asked Jo if he’d notice if ten million kroner went missing from his bank account. He seemed to be shocked at the mere notion of this. Of course he wouldn’t be able to tell!

(If you follow the above link to book one, you will discover that I liked it. I have no reason to believe that Can Doctor Proctor Save Christmas? will be any worse. I just lost my enthusiasm somewhere.)

Help yourself, why don’t you?

It’s really simple. You have a Christmas ad to make. You look around at books aimed at young children and find something suitably sweet. You contact the author/illustrator and ask them to work with you in return for money.*

I’ve heard there is a fair amount of it available for the people who think up and subsequently make Christmas ads. I feel it’d be a nice Christmas touch to pay the author for their work.

It’s not quite so nice to steal someone’s creation and pass it on as your own, by saying that monsters under beds are so commonplace that no one, not even a former children’s laureate, can claim it’s actually theirs.

And when found out, it’d look a lot better if you admitted to making a mistake and offered a belated payment for the stuff you took.

Or, you could not. A bit like John Lewis and the monster under the bed, ‘inspired’ by Chris Riddell’s Mr Underbed.

If the Christmas ad was intended to spread goodwill and all those other things, I’d say it failed this year. If John Lewis wanted us to think nice thoughts about them, they also failed.

I’ll go and watch Mog’s Christmas again. That was a nice one. Judith Kerr was credited for her work. I suspect she might even have been paid for it.

*I’d be happy to make suggestions.

Muggle magic for Christmas

‘Bring a touch of magic to the world of muggles with these movie must-haves.’

What’s wrong with the world? In fact, what’s wrong with Lakeland? This excellent mail order company that can make almost anyone want anything, and especially that which we don’t need, believes Harry Potter is a film.

Well, it is, of course. But it’s mostly a series of books. Still. Even though someone made films about the books.

And I understand that the film company bought all the rights to everything Harry Potter and in many instances they came up with the designs, so us muggles will know what Harry’s stuff looks like.

But still. They are surely not movie must-haves?

When I think of Harry Potter, I continue to – mostly – see my own pictures of the books in my head.

If these magical mugs and cauldrons were to make me weak at the knees, it’s not because of any Hollywood films. It’s because J K Rowling wrote seven fantastic books containing some weird and wonderful things.

Besides, surely Lakeland’s customers are serious enough to approve of mugs inspired by books? Movies aren’t everything in this world. Even if the movie company owns the rights to all that we see.

Win an Earle-y book for Christmas

Phil Earle, Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat

I don’t often offer to give you books, but today you have an opportunity of becoming the happy owner of a new book by Phil Earle – Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat. It’s the last book of four, in Phil’s Storey Street series. And I’m quite pleased to find that a series I perceived as being for boys and about boys, has branched out to incorporate girls as well.

Of course, it’s not me personally who’s being generous, it’s Phil’s publishers. But they are letting me find some worthy receipients for Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat. So good it was named twice.

Phil Earle

As you might have noticed Earle-ier, I’m a fan of Phil’s. He’s one of these new-ish writers who knows how to write for boys. And now, girls. What I mean is, without wanting to sound non-pc, is that the man can do great work with a non-pink sort of book. He’s funny, but he’s funny in a nice, kind way.

Storey Street

So if you happen to have a middle grade-aged reader who might enjoy a copy of Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat, let me know. Or if you feel that you yourself are old, but could still have fun on Storey Street. Just use the Contact function at the top of this page and tell me why you should win one of the three copies available. (UK, only, I’m afraid.)

No fighting now!

Easter?

I mourn my Easters. Some years ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that it made no sense for me to expect the other three family members to celebrate something that didn’t come natural to them. It was easier for me to go Easter-less.

(By comparison, I have always ‘insisted’ that we celebrate Christmas my way. But that’s OK, because the rest of the world also has some kind of Christmas happening, even if it’s different.)

Whereas Easter is virtually only chocolate eggs.

Don’t get me started on those eggs! I grew up on cardboard eggs with pretty pictures of Eastery things, or colourful aluminium foil, filled with simple sweets. Whereas Offspring’s friends down the road had a couple of picnic tables set up in their dining room, with row upon row of chocolate eggs; maybe ten each for the three children…

And then there are the feathers. Coloured feathers attached to thin branches of [generally] birch, displayed in some sort of large vase. Although that is for Lent. But I/we think of it as being for Easter, too.

I miss all this! Doesn’t matter that I can have all of it in the house, when I somehow can’t share the (totally non-religious) sentiments with my family. So imagine my pleasure the other week when finding that my friend in Lund had decorated her house in just the right Eastery way! It was so beautiful! And as with Christmas, it wasn’t exactly the same as mine, but you could tell we were on the same wavelength.

Easter witches

In protest I got out more decorations than usual a few days ago. I wanted to do my solitary Easter appreciation surrounded by more chickens and witches than I normally do. I’m puzzling over what to do foodwise, as not all the potential Easter type food will suit all the eaters.

Eggs. Real ones. What else?

We’d grill hot dogs on the Easter bonfires. I suppose an induction hob would do..? Not sure what the reaction to raw egg with lots of sugar would be. Yum?

I’ve still got a few hours to work something out.

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.