Christmas books

Reviews and discussion on various books about Christmas, Santa and related celebrations.

Santa’s husband – Christmas book review

Santa’s husbandCover of book Santa's husband

by Daniel Kibblesmith
illustrated by AP Quach
Harper Design, New York, 2017

Age group:

3 or 4 years and up, but read the review first!

Newly released, this is a different take on the Santa story!

The story

Described as the true story of Mr and Mr Claus, this book tells about the real Santa and how is helped by his husband.

My review

I loved this book, but am aware that others may not like the content and I strongly recommend reading it before sharing it with children (so you are prepared for any questions that may arise).

Ready for the shock? In this book, Santa is both black and gay. The Santa we are used to seeing is actually Santa’s white husband, named David. Personally, I have no issues with either coloured skin or gays so this didn’t bother me – but if it does bother you, this book will challenge you.
Inside peak at Santa's husband

For younger children, it can just be another version of Santa. For children a bit older, it can also be a catalyst for some interesting and important conversations (gay marriage, racism, dietary restrictions, differences between Santa images and why people get angry about such things). For adults, it is surprising, refreshing and funny!

There is some humour included which makes it fun for adults without being inappropriate for younger readers, such as keeping each other cosy in winter and sooty footprints all over the floor annoying Santa!

Quach has drawn some colourful and engaging pictures of Santa and his husband, and the writing itself is well done.

Overall, the book has a number of positive messages – primarily, acceptance of differences (“Who is anyone to say what the real Santa looks like?”) but also the concepts of working together and making up after disagreements.

I think this is a fantastic Christmas book that should be in every home.

Happy Christmas Spot – Christmas book review

Happy Christmas Spot Cover of book Happy CHristmas Spot

by Eric Hill
Penguin Books, London, 2011

Age group:  toddler to pre-primary school

Spot the dog is a well-known character for many young children, so sharing a Christmas story with him will be enjoyed by many.

The story

This is a fun little board book where Spot and his friends share presents with each other.

My review

In Hill’s usual style, the story is easy for young children to follow while the ‘lift the page’ intrigues slightly older children as well.

The book offers great opportunities for discussing the book – guessing gifts by shapes, counting ornaments and snowflakes, and naming colours.

Definitely a Christmas book worth considering for toddlers and pre-schoolers, although it is very focussed on winter activities. My three and five year olds have enjoyed reading it while we had it from the library.

Angry Birds wreck the halls – Christmas book review

Wreck the halls (Angry Birdscover of the Angry Birds book, wreck the halls

by Tomi Kontio
translated by Owen Whitesman
graphics by Terhi Haikonen
Puffin Books,  London, 2013

Age group: early to mid primary school (6-9 year olds)

Size/format: small, soft cover

I spotted this in an op shop recently and thought it was a bit different to the typical Christmas book. I believe it was originally part of a box set with a toy but I only got the book.

The story

A sack of Christmas presents is taken by three pigs and chased by two birds, Bomb and Red.

My review

This the first Angry Birds book I have read, and I know little about them. I was surprised to find a varied and interesting vocabulary (I wasn’t expecting to see words like smouldering, careened and precipice) and interesting descriptions (like majestic mountains, slanting rays of sun glimmering and gleaming pearls of ice).inner pages of Wreck the Halls

The story itself was good – the birds on skis chasing the pigs in a frying pan sled had excitement and anticipation. The birds speak respectfully and care for each other, and any anger is justified. It is a bit strange when Bomb explodes with expected repercussions, and comes away unscathed but I suspect that is something Angry Birds fans would understand and expect!

The pictures are ok, but I found a couple of them unclear. There is a reasonable amount of text on each page (it is not a picture book or aimed at early readers) and the font is rather small. The book is actually created based on an Angry Birds episode of the same name which was produced for Christmas 2011.

My children have played Angry Birds a couple of times (my sole previous knowledge of angry birds is based on those games!) My eight year old has more prior interest in the Angry Birds and he really enjoyed this book (“My favourite part was when Bomb exploded”); my seven year old was less excited but still enjoyed hearing the story.

That’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey – Christmas book review

Cover of That's good, that's bad Christmas bookThat’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey

by Margery Cuyler
illustrated by Michael Garland
Square Fish, New York, 2009

Age group: preschool to mid primary school

I heard of this book as being written to show children that bad things can change into good so I wanted to read it with my own children.

The story

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa heads off to deliver presents around the world but is hampered by bad weather, impatient reindeer and his own clumsiness.

A fun Christmas book that presents Santa in a relatable way.

My review

image of Santa falling from That's good, that's bad book

That’s good! That’s bad! On Santa’s journey looked like fun and presents Santa is a relatable way for children, which was a good start.

This is  a beautiful book, and a decent size, too (a little taller than an A4 landscape page). Garland has done a fantastic job illustrating this book – the pictures are detailed and colourful and cover entire pages. I love the expressions on faces throughout the book.

It is a fun story – I’d never heard of the reindeer being impatient and taking off without Santa before he came back up the chimney! And when Santa tripped over, the popping eyes and flying false teeth made me laugh out loud!

However, I really don’t understand the good/bad aspects of the book. On each page, something happens and is followed by ‘that’s good! No that’s bad!’ or ‘that’s bad! No, that’s good!” To me, in every instance, the first comment is correct – for instance the storm easing is good and the Santa falling out of the sleigh is bad – so I don’t see the point in the second comment. And there is no explanation on the next page about the change of good to bad (or vice versa).

I guess you can use the good/bad switch to start some conversations with children but it would have to be a deliberate act as the book doesn’t naturally lead that way. However, my eight year old immediately looked for reasons to swap good to bad (eg Santa fell into a pile of snow and wasn’t hurt) so there obviously is merit in this technique!

When we got to the last page, my seven year old said “Oh, no! Why does it have to be so short – I want lots more pages” and that says it all, doesn’t it?!

Santa Koala – Christmas book review

Santa KoalaBook cover for "Santa Koala"

by Colin Buchanan
illustrated by Glen Singleton
Scholastic Australia, 2010

Age group: early to mid- primary school

A koala helping Santa is a story line I find intriguing, and add in the caption “the official Waltzing Matilda” Christmas anthem and I couldn’t resist trying this picture book!

The storyCD from Santa Koala book

Santa fell asleep in the Aussie bush so a friendly Koala plans to save the day, but not everything goes to plan. This story is done to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, and the CD comes with the book.

My review

I sang this to my six and eight year olds tonight and we all enjoyed it, and I loved hearing their surprised laughter at the twist on the last page.

It’s a fun story about the bush animals taking over delivering gifts off Santa’s list while Santa had a nap by a billabong. We see an echidna, emu, goanna, platypus, wombat and bandicoot and six boomers  (pulling the sleigh of course!)

Not surprisingly, there are numerous Aussie references, like lamingtons, Tassie, the back of Bourke, a mad cockatoo and boiling up a billycan.Inner pages from Santa Koala

My six year old was keen to read the book herself, and my eight year old managed to sing along with me by reading the pages. And the pictures are lively and cheerful, so I’d say it’s a book worth adding to a Christmas collection.

The included CD has an instrumental version of Santa Koala as well as the full song to sing along to.

The magic little Christmas tree – Christmas book review

Book cover for The magic Little Christmas TreeThe magic little Christmas tree

North Parade Publishing, Bath, 2010

Age group: preschool

A colourful Christmas story about friendship that perhaps offers more than it delivers.

The story

Some cute animals make friends with a little fir tree on Christmas Eve and he rewards them with some magic.

My review

Inside of The magic little Christmas tree bookThis is a cute little book, and the unusual shape makes it fun. It feels like it is a baby book because the pages are so think but it isn’t a board book as such and I could see the pages lifting off the plastic if a very young child had hold of it for too long.

I love the pictures – they are cheerful and cute, and match the story beautifully. Unfortunately, no illustrator (or author for that matter) is listed on the book.

There are only five pages of text, so it is not a long story, but probably should be longer as it skims over a lot of details – I think it would be great as a longer picture book instead of being like a toddler book. The story itself is too involved for a baby or young toddler, unless the reader makes it more interactive and interesting anyway.

It is nice that the animals finish a job (although the implication is the path must be clear for Santa and friends to arrive!) before playing, and that the animals are friendly and inclusive. Giving a tree a voice and the ability to generate presents felt a little far-fetched to me, but it is a feel good ending.

Is your Santa black?

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet at Sinterklaas

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet celebrating Sinterklaas

With the exception of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter – Saint Nicholas’ companion in Holland), nearly all images of Christmas characters are white.

While I think it is ok to have a specific character be any particular colour/race/religion, there is no need for ALL characters to be one ‘type’ of person. It’s a bit like the old goodies in white hats and baddies in black hats – lots of good people actually prefer to wear black, and there are now stories of good witches and ninjas etc wearing black.

So is Santa black? Given he keeps himself hidden at the North Pole and comes into our homes when we are asleep, who knows what he really looks like? For all we know, he has purple skin and green hair!!

Teaching multiple stories.

I have just read an article by Peggy Albers about the impact of telling a single story. Called ‘Why is Santa black?’ the article explains that having a single story leads us to have a single perspective on things and can lead to narrow thinking.

Peggy suggests we read some stories from a different perspective and stories that show certain groups in different ways.

For example, I once read a version of Snow White told from the step- mother’s perspective. It told of her concerns about the teenager dropping rubbish everywhere (like a trail in the woods!), needing to be tricked into eating healthy food (like apples) and her relationship with the woodsman before running away. It was fun but children hearing that may get to understand that there is always another perspective, another side to the story – and that is certainly a valuable lesson to learn.

Peggy gives examples of Jewish characters being portrayed as poor, living with tension or fearful  of supernatural forces. The main reading I have done with Jewish characters have been set in or around World War 2 (so yes they were living with tension) or dealing with expectations based on deceased relatives (so supernatural forces) – so my own experience agrees with Peggy’s research. However, I also have some life experiences (and heard many other stereotypes) so have a broader perspective of Jews – but I can see how books give a limited view.

array of children's Christmas books

There are many books with Santa – mostly white and human, sometimes an animal.

I intend now to get and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas: An African American version* to broaden my Christmas story – and am glad I have read (and reviewed) some revised versions of Christmas stories such as:

Interestingly, there is a lot of debate about Zwarte Piet – many say he is racist and based on a book written in the 1850s while others say his origins are much older and relate to traditional European Santas having a black assistant who was invisible in the darkness and travelled through chimneys (so was covered in black soot). Accepting the book version of Zwarte Piet gives a different perspective of the character, whereas the historical version has more depth and fewer racist overtones – again, a single story impacts on the perceptions.

Does Santa’s colour matter?

The real symbols of Santa are a red suit, big belly and a white beard.

Yes, most images of Santa do have him as white but I don’t think that has to be the case (and will consciously use some other skin tones from here on myself).

And life is certainly more interesting when we have a variety of stories and cultures, so I’m all for some different Christmas and Santa stories (and there are a few around!)

So, what colour skin does Santa have in your mind? Other than it currently being unusual, would you have an issue with Santa being African or Asian in appearance?

 

* So far, I haven’t had much luck finding this book. It was written and illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, and published in October 1996.

Deck the halls – Christmas book review

Deck the halls

by Mary Higgins and Carol Higgins Clark

cover image of "Deck the Halls' by Higgins & Clark

An adult Christmas mystery book

published by Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster), New York, 2000

Age group: mid-teen to adult

Most Christmas books, and certainly the majority of the books we review at Love Santa, are aimed at children but I came across this one and thought it would be fun to review it.

Described as mother “Queen of suspense” and daughter “bestselling author” working together for the first time to “create an exciting and entertaining suspense novel”, I expected to enjoy the story.

The story

In the days before Christmas, private investigator Regan rushes across country to be with her injured mystery-writer mother, just in time for her father and a young mother to be kidnapped. Regan and new acquaintance amateur-detective Alvirah helped the police look the kidnappers and rescue the victims.

Regan and Alviarah are characters in their own series of books, one written by Mary and one by Carol.

My review

Let me start by stating I love reading crime stories and some of my favourite authors are Jo Nesbo, Kathy Reichs, Jonathon Kellerman, Ian Rankin, J D Robb and Kerry Greenwood, so I anticipated a good read blending crime and Christmas!

There are light crime stories and others are more complex and deeper, and Deck the Halls certainly falls into the lighter category.

I found the writing to be very basic and superficial, with obvious points explained as if the reader is not very bright. It did improve as the book progressed so either I got used to it or the writers collaborated better as they went along.

It is suitable for teens as there is no real violence or frightening elements, nor other adult content. And the simplicity of the story would work better for younger teens, perhaps than adults like me.

The Christmas element of the book was low – just the proximity to Christmas Day and one character working as Santa in a department store.

Apparently there are some other Christmas books written by this duo but I won’t be rushing out to find any of them.

So I did finish the book and didn’t hate it, but I can’t truly recommend it for serious crime readers or those who appreciate good writing.

That’s not my elf – Christmas book review

That’s not my elf…

by Fiona WattCover image of 'That's not my elf'
Illustrated by Rachel Wells
published by Usborne Publishing, London, 2016

Age group: baby to toddler

It was my eight year old son who grabbed this book off the shelf last night and begged me to read it. And then demanded to touch the textured part of each page.

So while these may be designed for the youngest of children, it has appeal to many age groups!

The story

A series of Santa’s elves are shown, each with an explanation of how it is different to ‘my’ elf. Each page has a different texture included for little fingers to explore.

My review

In line with “That’s not my reindeer“, this is another Christmas addition to the “That’s not my…” series of books, my children and I enjoyed reading this together.

Sample page from 'That's not my elf'

The pictures are cute and brightly coloured which makes the book appealing to all. I like that these books are interactive and teach young children various adjectives, and think that this should be on every baby/toddler Christmas bookshelf!

The naughtiest reindeer at the zoo – Christmas book review

The naughtiest reindeer at the zoo

by Nicki Greenbergnaughtiest reindeer in zoo

Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013

Age group: primary school

The story

It’s Christmas Day and a family heads of for Christmas with Granny and Pa. Much to the children’s horror, the parents won’t let them take Ruby the reindeer with them after the trouble she caused last year, so she goes to the zoo for the day instead.

My review

I really enjoyed this story book. It is Christmassy but has a very different story that is fun and keeps the kids wondering what will happen next.

The zoo animals are feeling sorry for themselves as they get lonely on Christmas Day (which led us to talk about the fact that Melbourne Zoo is open and has keepers on Christmas Day). Ruby had an idea of letting the animals mingle and party, which seemed to go ok at first but then the inevitable problems arise.

Sample page from 'The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo'

Ruby sees Santa’s sleigh go past and asks for help, naming all nine reindeer.

My kids reacted to “I don’t think [Santa] even believes we exist” – my six year old just could not understand how anyone could not know about zoo animals – and “Good tidings, good cheer! Mind the elephant poo!” (they may that hysterical, of course!)

The book rhymes throughout which delighted my seven year old and adds some rhythm and fun to the experience, too.

Pictures throughout are colourful and simple, matching the story perfectly. And some sparkly texture on the front cover makes it all a little bit more special, too. It’s all good fun and I recommend it.

Greenberg has written another naughtiest reindeer book and some others, and based on this one, I’ll be keeping an eye out for them 🙂

Santa is coming to Australia – Christmas book review

Santa is coming to Australia

by Steve Smallman
illustrated by Robert Dunn
AliCat, South Melbourne, 2012

Age group: early to mid primary school

Santa in Australia – you gotta love that 🙂Santa is coming to Australia

The story

The book starts with Santa and a little old elf preparing the sleigh and reindeer for his trip Down Under. It then covers the flight, including getting lost in cloud, and delivery of the gifts.

My review

Santa is nice and cheery, a young reindeer is bright and finds the way to Perth’s Bell Tower, and Santa’s magic is throughout the book. So it was a fun and happy read.

Interestingly, Perth got the most mentions but Santa then went onto the other major cities (though one does wonder why he went to Alice Springs, then the east coast before going to Darwin!). One spread includes many recognisable structures, although predominantly Sydney and Melbourne, and the last page sees Santa flying home over Sydney rather than Darwin…Sample page from 'Santa is Coming to Australia'

As a positive, the Santa-nav uses kilometres and there is no snow in Australia, Santa refers to little Aussies and ‘crossed the Equator and headed down under’. I was less happy with children leaving out ‘cookies and milk’ and a reindeer snack was left inside rather than out on the grass as I’ve always known to do.

Sample page from 'Santa is Coming to Australia'

There are other versions available, such as Santa is coming to Western Australia, Santa is coming to the beach, various parts of the UK and USA, and even Santa is coming to my house.

Astute children may ask why Santa went straight home after Darwin rather than delivering gifts to children in other countries (and my seven year old did notice!), but that didn’t detract from the overall story.

As always, it’s nice to see a book centred around places you know, so Aussie kids are bound to enjoy this book. And children elsewhere may well enjoy the story in its own right and get some interest out of seeing some views of down under!
Sample page from 'Santa is Coming to Australia'

A bit of applause for Mrs Claus – Christmas book review

A bit of applause for Mrs Claus

by Susie Schick-Pierce, Jeannie Schick-Jacobowitz, Muffin Drake-Policastro
illustrated by Wendy Wallin-Malinow
Naperville, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2012.

Age group: 3-5 year olds, plus earlier readers

A Bit of Applause for Mrs ClausThere are many, many books and stories about Santa, but not so many about Mrs Claus so this seemed like a different angle worth looking into.

The story

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is sick so Mrs Claus has to take over so the children don’t miss out on Christmas.

My review

Many parents will understand how Mrs Claus feels with the number of jobs still to be done on Christmas Eve as she has a very busy night. She has to wrap gifts, cook snacks, harness up the reindeer and finish decorating all the trees. Mrs Claus even has to write a pile of letters children to on behalf of Santa!

[Spoiler alert!] While the story focuses on Mrs Claus, the story doesn’t damage anyone’s expectations or hopes as Santa gets better in time to do the Christmas Eve run.Sample page from 'A bit of applause for Mrs Claus'

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