Category Archives: Christmas

The Queen’s Present

Even Queens can encounter problems when it comes to buying Christmas presents for their little ones.

Steve Antony, The Queen's Present

In Steve Antony’s latest picture book, his very active Queen embarks on some serious world travelling to find the perfect gifts for the Prince and the Princess. She has some help from the man in red, who just happens to call in at Buckingham Palace, and who lets her come with him as he crosses the globe.

This way the reader can see many of the world’s most famous landmarks as the Queen and Father Christmas fly past. But no matter how grand the place, it seems she will never find the right thing.

If you look carefully, you will see that Her Majesty starts her travels sitting at the back of the sleigh. But as they go, she ends up closer and closer to the front, until she finally has the reins in her hands.

That doesn’t help, though, and she has to give up the hunt, and Father Christmas sends her on her way in the same manner he himself enters most houses. Hence the Queen’s sooty appearance at Sandringham, where the Prince and Princess get the best gift from Grandma.

(I’m still pondering whether a generation has been lost, or if Steve is merely ‘Grandma-ing’ the Queen for the sake of simplicity?)

A spare

I reckoned I’d have a spare, once I’d placed our various Advent lights around Bookwitch Towers yesterday. It took me most of the morning, which is because we have too many lights, because I felt I had to dust before, and because it had been a very long time since any dusting happened around here.

Advent light

But at least we managed to unearth all the stuff from the building site-cum-garage, which is a good thing. The spare was expected since we are currently a room down. What was surprising in the end was that it wasn’t the spare I’d been expecting. And as it turned out to be the lightbox, I put it on a shelf in the kitchen. Near the lentils.

Obviously.

While I dusted, the Resident IT Consultant was out finishing his walk around the Fife coast. I’d forgotten to warn him to look out for James Oswald’s house or he could have popped in to say hello.

Advent books

And while searching for some other thing the other day, I came upon these two Advent books. One of them, the Jostein Gaarder is one we habitually lose, and have to buy another copy of. The other is Cornelia Funke’s Advent calendar in German, which I turned the house – almost – upside down for last month, before travelling to Newcastle to meet Cornelia.

Just my luck to miss it then and to find it now. Though I suppose it beats not ever finding it.

Thinking of translations, the Gaarder was the example at my ‘SELTA talk’ in London three weeks ago, of a book I have found to be much more readable in English than in Swedish. Both translations. Maybe I should have tried it in Norwegian. Whereas Cornelia’s story has not yet appeared in English. I wonder if that is because English-speaking children mainly eat chocolate in the run-up to Christmas, rather than mark Advent in other ways?

Threadbear

Occasionally I feel a little threadbear myself, not to mention washed out. But I’ve never featured in a Mick Inkpen book.

Here, 25 years on from his first appearance, we have Threadbear again, the slightly worn bear with no squeak. It is very sad. I’m not sure who is saddest, Threadbear himself for not squeaking, or his owner Ben who keeps squeezing and thumping and doing all sorts just to get a noise out of his bear.

Mick Inkpen, Threadbear

It’s probably Threadbear, because who wants to be a disappointment, let alone fail in what their purpose in life is? He has the squeaker; it just doesn’t squeak.

And then, it is Christmas, and that jolly fat man in red rides past. And Threadbear is suddenly full of hope. But still no squeak.

Oh bear!

Don’t give up on the man in red’s powers just yet. You might get that lovely shrunken feeling.

Squeak.

Covering Christmas

Daughter and I went into Waterstones the other day, went straight upstairs and looked for what I’d seen when I was last there a few weeks ago. No luck. So I descended again and walked up to the man at the till and explained I’d been sitting next to some lovely diaries last time, and where were they now???

Right inside the front door, apparently…

Mairi Hedderwick, Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017

Well, I didn’t need a diary as such, but there was no way I wasn’t going to own Mairi Hedderwick’s Hebridean Pocket Diary 2017. It’s gorgeous. It has Mairi’s Hebridean illustrations on every spread! (And it seemed Daughter was unlikely to get it for me for Christmas.) So I bought it.

And there was so much that one doesn’t strictly speaking need, but could easily develop a craving for. The diaries were next to the extra special editions of well known books with new beautiful covers, aimed at those who need to buy gifts. Had I not been a sensible Witch, I’d have come out of there with an empty credit card.

So yes, I bought myself a present. Nothing for the rest of you. Sorry.

But they – whoever they are – are fiendishly clever in thinking up new desirable book covers. The kind that would make you buy a book again, just because it was wearing new clothes.

I’d better not go into town again for a few months.

Orbiting Jupiter

If I’d known it was a little bit Christmas related, I’d have read Orbiting Jupiter a week earlier. I reckon I wouldn’t have minded crying at Christmas. Much. It was mostly good crying. Some bad. It takes a very special kind of writer – and Gary D Schmidt is one – to dare do what he did.

This commendably short and moving book is about two boys. 12-year-old Jack, who lives on a farm (in Maine, is my guess) with his parents, and Joseph, who is a couple of years older and comes to them to be fostered. He is a troubled boy, and on top of everything else, he is a recent father.

Joseph isn’t allowed to see baby Jupiter, but it’s all he wants. He loves that baby. He’s also rather challenging, and school isn’t easy. Even Jack encounters new problems, simply by association.

There are some really dreadful children, and teachers, in that school. But there are also some very decent people, and Jack’s parents belong to the latter category. There is finally some hope for Joseph, when…

You will need that hanky out now, but you definitely want to read this book. It has some lovely cows, and it is yet more proof that librarians are worth having.

Gary D Schmidt, Orbiting Jupiter

Tree v books

Christmas tree

The tree is on its way out. It always makes me sad, because I like my Christmas tree. And after our second Christmas in the ‘new’ Bookwitch Towers, I am very satisfied with its position in the house too, while the Resident IT Consultant is less thrilled.

I like it because I see it as I exit the other downstairs rooms, since despite the grand name, Bookwitch Towers is a small bungalow, albeit double-fronted. So unlike the much larger, old BT, this one offers a long vista from one end to the other, and I rather like seeing the tree all lit up across the rooms.

The reason the Resident IT Consultant isn’t so happy is that it blocks off the reference books for four weeks every year. My feeling is that with all those mince pies needing attention, he will have no time to look things up [in books]. And if he absolutely must, he can jolly well look up what’s in the almost reachable half behind the tree.

And let’s face it; once the books are uncovered again, the reunion will be that much sweeter.

More resolutions

Sorry. I wasn’t going to do them. But the Guardian published some author resolutions on reading, and I need to air my views.

Obviously, I don’t have resolutions. I long decided the best way to go is to avoid them like the plague.

But, I would like to read more. Meg Rosoff aims to read for four hours a day. That had better be tongue-in-cheek! Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Unless temporary circumstances forced it. It feels excessive. Two hours? I could aspire to that.

Jackie Morris has a sensible idea; half an hour at each end of the day. I like that. But then I had to go and ruin it by wondering how I’d deal with those mornings when you’re up early to go to the dentist, catch a train, or something. (OK, I’d read in the waiting room to calm myself down, and the train is perfect for reading.)

In general though, I suppose it’s worth aspiring to change. I have this long term idea of a new reading challenge I could do, while recognising I will never get round to it. It’s much easier to go on as I am.

Harking back to the toddler years – Offspring’s, not mine – I felt so much better once I got re-started on reading. On the other hand, sitting is said to be the new smoking, and I do feel the need to sit during most of my reading. I should aim to bake more bread, or do the ironing; both of which are jobs done standing up, and both are good for the mind.

Or, I could go back to audiobooks. Anthony McGowan cycles round London listening to books. I have a garage full of audio books, but nothing on which to play them. Besides, I have ‘read’ them already.

In reality I imagine I will stumble from book to book the way I have been for years. And I may need to ditch my current book. It could be that it’s not gripping me enough, rather than lack of time between eating Stollen and watching Christmas television that keeps me from picking the book up.