12 Days of Books 2017/18: Christmas in the Country

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Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
2002, The Blue Sky Press

Day 12! 

Doing this series has been a lot of fun and has introduced me to some new and interesting books, many of which I will certainly revisit.  I think being the last day, however, is even more reason to finish with full festiveness, a little looking back, and a little looking forward.

 

Christmas in the Country is written by the prolific and varied Cynthia Rylant.  It is told from the point of view of someone who lived with her grandparents when she was a little girl. It basically just describes what Christmas was like for her then, from bringing home the tree to taking it down.

 

My favourite thing about this book is the extremely relatable details, such as how the mismatched and homemade ornaments remind her of her whole life, or how they always got a tree that was a little too big and so they had  to squeeze round it in the living room, but how it was the prettiest thing they had.
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Or how they put their wet boots and gloves near the stove to dry, and how the dogs all bark at the commotion of Christmas Day.IMG_7004IMG_7005 The overall impression is one of appreciation for the little details of life which we often take for granted as adults.  The natural, lively and expressive illustrations really enhance this.

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Another reason I wanted to recommend this book for today is that many people feel a bit gloomy after the holidays.  Even though my family will be leaving our tree up (and squeezing round it in the living room) for a while yet, and the time of “cocoa and blankets” will continue for months to come, there will be a time when we have to pack up the ornaments, and sweep up the fir needles.
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But this book, in the beginning and the end, reminds us of all the other things there are to look forward to in the year: “spring walks and summer tomatoes and fall apples,” and then Christmastime again!
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I hope your holidays were something special and your New Year continues to be so.

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18

 

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12 Days of Books 2017/18: The Tomten

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The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
1990, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

It’s always difficult to go back to work or school after a holiday, especially when you have to get up in the dark. On Day 10  we have the story of the Tomten, who works all the winter night.

This version of The Tomten is another Swedish story, adapted by Astrid Lindgren from a poem by Viktor Rydberg.

Perhaps because it’s based on a poem, this is not a very plot-heavy book, but more  about mood, mystery, repetition, description, and atmosphere.

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The Tomten lives on an old farm.  Every night he goes through the farmyard and the house, speaking to the animals and looking after them.  To each animal he speaks a variation on a little poem about how Winters and Summers come and go.
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The whole mood is a little melancholy.  The Tomten seems a little lonely because he can’t speak to the humans in the house, and they will never see him, because he only comes out at night.IMG_6937IMG_6938The Tomten has seen many hundreds of  winters, so it makes sense that he would have a good perspective for the animals who are longing for summertime.  And he will carry on as long as there people at the farm for him to help.

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This is a lovely book with evocative prose, and especially beautiful pictures of the snowy farm lit by brilliantly bright moonlight and snowlight.

It certainly makes me feel better about getting up in the cold and dark!

Hot chocolate in my travel mug also helps.

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Merry Christmas, Strega Nona

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Merry Christmas, Strega Nona story and pictures by Tomie dePaola
1986, Scholastic Inc.

For many people Christmas is over by now.  We are going back to work tomorrow, and daily life will resume somewhat as usual.  However, it actually is only Day 9!  

Today is Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, part of Tomie dePaola’s series about an Italian grandmother/witch.

In this story Strega Nona is getting ready for Christmas.  She loves it so much that she refuses to use magic to help with the work, much to the chagrin of her helper, Big Anthony, who is constantly being sent on errands.IMG_6899


She always makes a big feast for everyone at Christmas, but this year Big Anthony tells her that he has forgotten all the preparations for it, and since Strega Nona is determined to stick to her principles and not use magic, there will be no feast.
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There follows a quite melancholy interlude as Strega Nona goes sadly to Mass, and comes sadly home.  This section is accompanied by some of the loveliest and most minimalist of the illustrations.IMG_6910IMG_6912
In the end it turns out that this was a surprise plan by Big Anthony so that everyone else could make the feast for Strega Nona this time.  Personally, this seems like a bit of mean trick on her, but thankfully she is quite happy about it.

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Strega Nona’s Christmas Feast

Codfish stew

Roasted peppers

Cookies

Fried pastry

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One of the best things about this book is the charming illustrations, which have a lovely, timeless folk-art feel.  I don’t know how authentic it is to southern Italian Christmas traditions, but it is nice to add to our international selection.

We never find out why exactly Strega Nona doesn’t want to use magic for her preparations, but it can be more rewarding sometimes to do things yourself, by hand, and put in the work for something worthwhile.

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Henry the Explorer

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Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor, illustrations by Graham Booth
1966, Aladdin Books

Happy New Year all!

On Day 8 we have another boy named Henry and his dog.  This Henry (and his dog Laird Angus McAngus) read a book about explorers on the night of a blizzard.
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This naturally makes Henry want to go exploring too.  So he makes a bunch of flags, packs an explorer’s kit, and he and Angus head out into the snowy woods.

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Henry and Angus have some very exciting adventures while exploring.  They even meet a bear!  But they are gone so long that Henry’s mother sends out searchers to hunt for them.
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Fortunately, Henry and Angus manage to find their own way home by following the flags they had planted.


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IMG_6870Henry and Angus’s Explorer’s Kit

Sandwich — peanut butter

Bone for Angus

Ball of string

Apple

Orange

Flashlight

Whistle

Candy for gifts

Map

And flags

 

This is a cute little book.  The illustrations are very atmospheric and beautiful.  Henry and Angus are definitely an inspiring pair.

Winter is actually a very good time to go exploring.  There are no bugs, no undergrowth, and you won’t get too hot.  Just make sure you are dressed warmly and have an explorer’s kit.

Or if you’d rather not, you can stay in and read a book about exploring– that’s just as good.

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan

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Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Suçie  Stevenson
1999, Simon & Schuster

You can’t go wrong with Henry and Mudge.  On Day 7 we have The Snowman Plan, which continues our snowy theme.  In this story, Henry and Mudge see a sign for a snowman contest.IMG_6808

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This is obviously very exciting!

 
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Henry tells his father, who is busy painting a chair green, and has gotten green paint all over himself.  But his father is as enthusiastic about the Snowman Plan as are Henry and Mudge.

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There are many interesting snowmen in the competition, but most especially Henry and his father’s, which is a depiction of the father painting a chair green.

In the end they win third place, for “most original”.

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It’s nice that Henry and his father are as excited about winning third place as if they had won first.  This is a very charming book, extremely positive and fun, with expressive illustrations, and small children will find it very funny.

For this New Year, I hope we all find something we are as excited about as Henry is about the Snowman Plan, and as Mudge is about dessert!

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Five Little Foxes and the Snow

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Five Little Foxes and the Snow by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres
1977, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

For Day 6 we have Five Little Foxes and the Snow.  While The Mitten was about a boy who wanted his grandmother to knit him snow-white mittens, this little book is about a bunch of little foxes whose grandmother won’t let them play in the snow because their paws will get cold.

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For five days the snow continues to fall, and to grow deeper and deeper around little foxes’ burrow.  Each day one of the foxes asks their patient grandmother if they can play in the snow.  Each day she puts them off by saying their paws will be cold, and suggesting another activity.  Meanwhile she spends her time knitting by the fire.

Of course, when Christmas Day arrives they receive their gifts — five pairs of colourful mittens, so they can finally play in the snow!

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This is a very cute and cozy little book.  The main appeal comes from the illustrations, which have a very warm 70’s quality to them.  The depictions of what the little foxes got up to are very detailed and amusing, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever been snowed in as a child — or snowed in with children!

The five little foxes had gingerbread men and warm cider on their snow days, but you can enjoy them whether you have snow or not.  Just be sure to keep warm!

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12 Days of Books 2017/18: The Mitten

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The Mitten adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
1989, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Day 5 moves from Sweden to Ukraine.  Jan Brett adapted a traditional tale about a boy named Nicki who wanted mittens made from wool as white as snow.IMG_6733

His grandmother, Baba, warns him that they will get lost in the snow.  But she knits them for him and sure enough, he loses one in the snow when he goes out to play.

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But the mitten looks so cozy and warm that a whole bunch of animals (including a mole, an owl, a badger, and a bear) that pass by decide to crawl inside.  The Mitten stretches and stretches, but the last animal (a little mouse) is one too many.   The bear sneezes and the Mitten shoots up into the sky.

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The story is fairly simple, but the best thing about this book is the illustrations.  All the pictures are surrounded by birchbark and embroidery in folk art patterns.  To the left of the main picture we always see a smaller picture of what Nicki is doing (inadvertently scaring the animals towards the Mitten), and to the left we see the next animal coming along.  They are very pretty illustrations, and full of fun little details.

Hopefully this story will inspire you to go play in the snow — or just seek out somewhere warm and cozy to eat something hearty and do some knitting.

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Peter and Lotta’s Christmas

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Peter and Lotta’s Christmas by Elsa Beskow
2002, Floris Books

Day 4 is Peter and Lotta’s Christmas.  This book is by Swedish author Elsa Beskow.  It’s about two children named Peter and Lotta who go to live with their aunts and uncle.  While there they experience their first proper Christmas.IMG_6699

The story is actually quite long for a picture book and covers two Christmases  and the year in between.  On their first Christmas Peter and Lotta don’t know anything about the holiday or its customs, so they are very excited about the Christmas tree, getting gifts, etc.  They are, however, very frightened by the Christmas Goat!

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For anyone not familiar with the Christmas Goat or Yule Goat, you can read about it here.  It is certainly nice to have a story which examines  Christmas traditions which are somewhat different from the ones we usually see portrayed.  Because Peter and Lotta don’t know that the Christmas Goat is actually just their Uncle Blue dressed up, they are told a fairytale which causes them to go on some interesting adventures over the next year.PLCe

First Christmas

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Second Christmas

By their second Christmas the children have learned a lot.  They are no longer afraid of the Christmas Goat and learn who he is.  However, they enjoy this Christmas even more than the first, because this year they got to give gifts as well as receive them.

 

 

Peter and Lotta’s Christmas is a real treat, especially for Elsa Beskow fans.  It has her classic illustrations and lots of lovely details about rural Swedish life in this time period.  Because of this it is not a quick read, and is a bit like the Little House on the Prarie Books in that it is a detailed depiction of daily life.  The description of how the children made presents for their family is particularly nice.
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As you can see from the illustration, Peter and Lotta have cake, saffron buns, and pepparkakor at Christmas.  We only had some zimtsterne, which are not Swedish but have all the right spices, and really any gingerbread would do.  Yule Goat is optional.

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18: The Jolly Christmas Postman

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The Jolly Christmas Postman  by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
1991, Penguin Books Ltd

Day 3 and we are still in full festive mode.  We ventured out once to play in the snow, but the rest of the time is best spent snuggling up with hot chocolate and books.

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The Jolly Postman is a deserved classic, and the Christmas sequel is just as fun.  For anyone unfamiliar, the Jolly Postman delivers letters to various fairytale characters, and all of the letters come in “envelopes” in the pages and are removable.

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The Christmas version allows for the addition of Christmas cards (such as one from Goldilocks to Baby Bear) and gifts.  Humpty Dumpty receives a puzzle from all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.  The Gingerbread Boy receives a tiny book with an even tinier book inside it from Pat O’Cake Bakers.  Red Riding Hood receives a board game from Mr Wolf.  All of these are removable and playable.

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Part of the fun of this book is all the careful little details that make up the mix of fairytales and English village life, such as the Cat and the Fiddle pub, or the milkman delivering to King Cole’s castle.  The illustrations are very lively and fun to pore over.

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The Jolly Postman’s Christmas Mince Pie Tally

2 mince pies

24 miniature mince pies

1 cup ginger beer

1 miniature bucket of tea

1 cup of tea

1 glass sherry

1 slice Christmas cake

 

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The Postman finishes his day with a Christmas cake and sherry, but you could just as well have tea and mince pies, or hot chocolate.  Anything that makes you feel warm and snug!

 

12 Days of Books 2017/18: Bertie’s Escapade

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Bertie’s Escapade  by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
1949, J.B. Lippincott Company

For Boxing Day we have Bertie’s Escapade.  While The Wind in the Willows is obviously far more well-known, this more obscure work by Grahame is also interesting in its own right.  It’s a much shorter book, originally published in First Whisper of the Wind in the Willows.

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The story concerns a pig named Bertie who decides he is going to go carol-singing on a Winter’s night. He convinces a pair of rabbits to come along. Their names are Peter and Benjie, but I don’t think they are meant to be Beatrix Potter’s rabbits, just named after them.

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Bertie isn’t actually a very nice pig.  He’s extremely bossy and even threatens to bite Benjie when the rabbit is reluctant to come along.  But Benjie is right to be cautious, as Bertie’s plan doesn’t really work out at all and the carol-singers end up being chased off by dogs.

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Bertie makes the best of it, however, and he, the rabbits, and a mole (probably not Moley, as he is married, has a job as an elevator operator, and a somewhat gruff personality) have a supper party by stealing a bunch of food from a Mr Grahame.  I don’t know if Kenneth Grahame really did have a pig named Bertie and rabbits named Peter and Benjie, but it is an interesting way to end the story.

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Bertie’s Stolen Midnight Supper Menu

Cold chicken

Tongue

Pressed beef

Jellies

Trifle

Apples

Oranges

Chocolates

Ginger

Crackers

Ginger-beer

Soda-water

Champagne

This is definitely a fun little book, notable more for comedy than sentiment, but reading something funny while eating far too much indulgent food is a very good way to spend Boxing Day.

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