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 🙂

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'

Little Miss Christmas – Christmas book review

Little Miss Christmas

Cover image of 'Little Miss Christmas'by Adam Hargreaves
from concept by Roger Hargreaves
Egmont, London, 2005

Age group: preschool

I recently rediscovered this book in our attic, so I read it a few weeks ago with my kids on a drive to a family outing, when Christmas still felt a way off!

The story

Santa’s niece, Little Miss Christmas, has the important job of wrapping the presents for Santa to deliver. However, she decides she wants a break so Santa and Mr Christmas have to wrap presents instead.

My review

This was typical Mr Men/Little Miss book and enjoyable to read together – my six and eight year olds both enjoyed it and said it was fun.

little_miss_xmas_innerAs well as being fun, I found that this book was good for starting conversations and thinking. For instance, I was able to get the kids to predict the next step of the story when Santa and Mr Christmas got distracted. Then we talked about whether doing jobs straight away was a better choice and a better way to care for Little Miss Christmas.

It took a team effort at the end to get all the gifts wrapped in time for Santa to leave the North Pole, which was a nice message and had the amusement of how different characters ‘helped’ with the wrapping (Miss Nasty had to be supervised and you can guess how Mr Messy went…).

However, Father Christmas and Mr Christmas hadn’t learned their lesson which was a little more disappointing – and didn’t make my kids laugh either. Readers could be left with a worry that some presents may not arrive on Christmas Eve if Santa and the reindeer take off late – I covered that up with the idea that Australia is so early on Santa’s route that he would not miss our place on Christmas Eve!

So this book was fun with a bit more depth than most of the Little Miss books, and can be enjoyed by a range of age groups.
'Little Miss Christmas' illustration


The Christmas Wombat – Christmas book review

The Christmas WombatBook cover of 'The Christmas Wombat'

by Jim Poulter
illustrated by Jo Poulter
Red Hen Enterprises, Templestowe, 2007

Age group: primary school

I came across this book by a recommendation by a friend and her eight year old son. They had got the book at a local market and really enjoyed reading it – her son doesn’t always enjoy reading but he loved this book and managed to read it himself despite it being a bit harder than he usually can manage.

The story

It is Christmas Eve in Wattlebark Creek and the animals are preparing for and looking forward to Christmas and a visit from the Christmas Wombat, but not everything goes to plan.

My review

Sample page from 'The Christmas Wombat'While this book is full of pictures and is picture-book size, it is not a simple picture book for toddlers – although you could read it over a few days to a toddler or pre-schooler.

I loved the Australian feel to this book – it’s more the overall tone than any specific things that make it feel so comfortable to me.

There are also a number of humourous elements, such as Enid B Koala, Wall and Bea the wallabies, Col (short for Collingwood) the Magpie, Iris Emu the Chief Inspector of Local Business, and Clint E Tiger Quoll.

It is more than a picture book in that characters are more developed and the story includes history, background, excitement and danger. But it is accompanied by lovely images of the Australian bush and animals – all drawn by Jo Poulter, the author’s wife.

As part of the Christmas Eve preparations, Enid reads out the Wattlebark Creek Christmas Story. It starts with “it was the night before Christmas” and keeps to the idea of young ‘uns sleeping with a special gift-bearing Christmas visitor, but has it’s own flavour and the gifts are carried by the Christmas Wombat! The Christmas Wombat uses magic to get around the Aussie bush so doesn’t need reindeer or even boomers to help him, although some white possums are his assistants.

Christmas morning is interrupted by an attack by two feral cats, and the animals are all scared which may frighten young children. Shhh, everyone ends up ok, including the feral cats who become friends!

Both my children enjoyed the story – my six year old said “It’s not good Mum – it’s super!” and my seven year old loved how the day was saved and a “Star of valour” earned.

My only criticism (and it is picky) is that it needed a little more editing as a couple of sentences have an extra word, missing word or a slightly wrong word. It stood out to me as I read it aloud but I corrected it orally and it certainly didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the story.

Jim Poulter has written and self-published this book, and some others, so it is not widely available but is well worth the effort and by buying it directly from Jim, you know the entire cost is going to costs and the author.

Rover saves Christmas – Christmas book review

Rover saves Christmas

by Roddy DoyleCover of Rover saves Christmas - a kids' book
Scholastic Press, Southam, 2001

Age group: mid to late primary school

A fun novel for children about Santa, a dog and an adventure!

The story

Rudolph is sick so can’t lead the reindeer and Santa is staying home on Christmas Eve. But along comes Rover the wonder-dog and maybe he can help Santa…

My review

Definitely a book aimed at children – many adults will find it a bit too silly at times (and perhaps a little predictable) while seven year olds think it is hilarious!

This is actually a sequel to The Giggler Treatment (a New York Times best seller) but I haven’t read that and did not find it a problem. Having said that, if you can get both books I think it would be fun and you may as well read them in order! There is also followed by The Meanwhile Adventures (and you can get all three together in The Rover Adventures).

The book is written as a story but has comments directed at the reader – for example, there are interruptions occasionally and a chapter that progressively gets older… inside pages of Rover saves Christmas

As for the actual story, it is fun. Roddy helps Santa out (even if it took a little convincing), Santa learns he is more important to kids than the presents, and they travel the world in a very logical manner (moving north and south along timelines!)

I laughed at how many sandwiches were made for (and eaten by) Santa, and I loved the idea of elves having sleighs around the world to top up Santa’s main sleigh as he travelled. I might have to ask Santa if that is how he really manages to get so many gifts to so many children!

To keep adults somewhat entertained, there are also various side references that kids won’t fully understand – like borrowing an owl from some Harry kid or getting a bandana from a “very old singer called Bruce Springsteen”!

When I dream of Christmas – Christmas book review

When I dream of ChristmasBook cover of 'When I dream of Christmas'

by Oakley Graham
illustrated by Patricia Yuste
Hinkler Books, Heatherton, 2012

Age group: preschool primary secondary school

My children chose this book from our local library – and I must say I’m glad I didn’t buy it or have to store it long term.

The story

The book is based on the concept of 27 aspects of Christmas. Each aspect is given a page of text opposite a lovely illustration. 24 or 25, or even 31, would be a more logical number to my thinking but the overall concept is good, I think.

My review

The book it titled ‘when I dream of Christmas’ but the words and idea are only mentioned once in the book – on the last page. Noting else in the book is about dreaming so I find the title misleading and irrelevant.

Of course, the book is focussed on a winter Christmas – right from the first page, children in more than half the world are excluded as ‘sledging’ is not part of our Christmas at all.

However, it is the actual text that I really don’t like. I think it is meant to be funny on a number of pages, but it seemed lame to me and my children didn’t laugh or smile once. Comments like “sledging is fun at any time but best with snow” is a little patronising rather than funny. Likewise, dirty socks making gifts smell like cheese and Christmas lights causing kids to ride into snowmen are just not necessary.

The only page not so silly was the last page when it talks about baby Jesus (of course, for the non-religious that raises other issues!)

On the other hand, Patricia Yuste has done some lovely pictures for the book. She has matched them to the story well and used bright colours and simple characters to make it look delightful.

So, obviously, I don’t recommend buying this book for anyone. My three and five year olds listened to it all and said it was ok – but have not asked for a second reading which says it all I think.


Aussie Jingle Bells – Christmas book review

Aussie Jingle BellsBook cover of 'Aussie Jingle Bells'

by Colin Buchanan
illustrated by Nick Bland
Scholastic Press, Lindfield, 2006

Age group: primary school

Obviously based on the traditional Christmas song, this book gives the words of Jingle Bells adapted for an Australian Christmas.

The story

A drive through iconic Australia is a fun interpretation of the old Christmas song, Jingle Bells.

My review

This was a fun read for me and my kids, and it is very much an Aussie version.

So instead of a sleigh racing over the snow, we get a rusty holden ute bumping over the sand with thongs, kangaroos, swaggies and an esky in the boot! I can’t help but read the words in the tune and smile as all the Aussie imagery unfolds.

The pictures in the book are gorgeous – simple and very evocative of Australia. I love the little details like a lizard frying an egg on a rock as it is a scorching Christmas Day.

A lot of fun, this book could be read or sung to the very young but it probably takes a mid-primary aged child to fully appreciate it.

A very wombat Christmas – Christmas book review

A Very Wombat Christmas

by Lachlan Creagh
Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2015

Age group: primary school

Book cover of "A very wombat Christmas"The story

Based on the night before Christmas poem, this tale is about wombat trying to making Christmas beautiful for his friends. He cook, decorates and works hard to find the perfect gift for Emu.

My review

I really enjoyed this book – it has lovely pictures, is truly Australian and has a lovely story. It’s short – it is a picture book after all! – but no less worthy of being on a Christmas bookshelf for that.

My seven year old read it to his sister and I and we all enjoyed it. Watching wombat consider various options for Emu’s present is both fun and a reminder to get on with our own gift shopping! However, the final gift is thoughtful, affordable and a great example to set for young children.A sample page from "A very wombat Christmas"

A sample page from "A very wombat Christmas" picture bookThere are a number of other Wombat books by Lachlan Creagh, and I may just be tempted to get some of them based on our enjoyment of this one!


Wake Up, Bear… It’s Christmas! – Christmas book review

Wake Up, Bear… It’s Christmas!

by Stephen Gammell
William Heinemann, London, 1981

Age group: primary school

A sweet story about a bear who decided to enjoy Christmas rather than hibernate.Book cover of 'Wake up, Bear… It's Christmas!'

The story

Bear decides that he is missing out each year so he sets an alarm to wake him up on Christmas Eve. As he sits enjoying his fire, an old white-bearded man visits him and takes him on a sleigh ride.

My review

I liked the unusual aspect of this story – a bear waking up from hibernation for Christmas! My five year old and I both thought is strange on page one where it states ‘But he wasn’t going to be sleeping all winter’, but it was quickly explained and made a lovely basis for a story.

There is enough text on each page to keep middle primary kids interested, yet little enough to be enjoyed by younger children as well. Emergent readers could even read it themselves.

Bear has a wonderful Christmas which is a delight to read about, and of course the old man can be assumed to be Santa. It was heart warming and fun, but the timing seemed wrong. If the old man was indeed Santa, how did he have time on Christmas Eve to sit with Bear for hours before going on a sleigh joyride? To me, if the story had been set on Christmas night, it would have been better as then not only does Bear get company and enjoy his Christmas and Santa would be free to do his deliveries, the story would show Santa having a relaxing evening after his big night and that just wouldn’t have added extra warmth to the book.

Inner spread from book "Wake up, Bear… It's Christmas!"So, Wake up Bear… it’s Christmas is a lovely book, with nice illustrations and rhyming text, that would be a happy addition to any bookshelf.

Where’s Santa? – Christmas puzzle & book review

Where’s Santa? puzzle & book set
Picture of "Where's Santa? box set

by Louis Shea
Scholastic Australia, Lindfield, 2014

Age group: primary school

A book to be searched for Santa, Elvy and more, plus a 150 piece puzzle of the find Santa at the beach page.

The story

Elvy the mischievous elf took Santa’s sleigh in a misguided plan to star Christmas early. Detective Inspector Scrooge, Santa, Mrs Claus and their pet Fluffy search for Elvy on a beach, at a carnival, in space and in a shopping centre – and readers get to find them all on each page.

Sample page from "Where's Santa?" box setMy review

This was a fun book and I spent quite a while with my son looking for the specified pictures on each page.

As well as the images you need to find, there are numerous funny pictures to enjoy such as a sheep streaking across a game, an ice cream dropped on a sun baking woman, escaped turkeys and people riding jet propelled candy canes.
back cover of Where's Santa book

The puzzle is the biggest (in terms of number of pieces) my kids have tackled so it took us about 40 minutes to complete it. I’ts not an easy puzzle in that there is so much colour and action across the picture that it takes some effort to piece it together – but I love the challenge of finding bits so that is not a negative for me! Alone, I think my seven year old could have done the puzzle, it just would have taken him a lot longer!

Note this set is related to the Where’s Santa in Australia? book.





The completed Where's Santa puzzle

The completed puzzle, showing Santa and friends at the beach

Where’s Santa? In Australia – Christmas book review

Where’s Santa? In Australia
Book cover of 'Where's Santa? in Australia'

by Louis Shea
Scholastic Australia, Lindfield, 2015

Age group: primary school

Santa travels around Australia, providing a page for each state for us to search for Santa and other characters.

The story

It’s almost Christmas and Santa drops in to visit his cousin Barry in Australia. Unfortunately, Bluey the dog ‘catches’ Rudolph’s red nose magic and shares it around. The animals fly off around Australia, dragging Barry’s grandkids with him. Santa and Barry therefore try to find the kids, while the readers get to look for all of them in the pictures.

My review

We had a lot of fun with this book – the two seven year olds spent at least half an hour searching pages for the listed characters, while the two five year olds lasted for about half that. And all four of those kids have been back to the book more than once to find more things.

Sample page from 'Where's Santa? in Australia'

We all enjoyed the amusing pictures themselves – for example, on the Tasmanian page you can see noughts and crosses on a sheep’s flanks, a sheep knitting, wolves in sheep’s clothing and sheep getting salon treatments! And I liked seeing the pages being themed to the state, like apples for Tasmania, opals and underground homes for South Australia, various sports for Victoria and hot air balloons for the ACT.

I liked the fact that there was a story rather than just pages of searching for things. I think the story helped the kids keep interest and find so many items on each page because they were characters in the story (as well as page specific items).

There were also amusing little touches, like naming the kids Kylie and Jason, Bluey the red healer and cousin Barry in his blue singlet calling Santa ‘Clauso’. Add in Santa trying to lose his jar of Saltymite while Barry looks for his favourite blue undies, and there’s plenty to keep you amused! Of course, much of this may need an Aussie sense of humour…

So this book has a lot of fun, a story and helps kids be observant and remember the details of what to find. I think pre-schoolers can enjoy the pictures and story, and teens and adults can have fun with it. Primary aged kids will love it so I thoroughly recommend it 🙂

Zelda and Ivy: One Christmas – Christmas book review

Zelda and Ivy: One ChristmasBook cover of Zelda and Ivy: One Christmas

by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
Walker Books, London, 2000

Age group:  primary  school

A three chapter picture book about caring and appreciating gifts.

The story

Two sister foxes, Zelda and Ivy, are together in three Christmas stories in one book. The first story sets the scene of what the girls and their friend Mrs Brownlie wish to get for Christmas. Mrs Brownlie’s husband has died since last Christmas so the girls make a gift to cheer her up this year.

In the second story, Zelda becomes the Amazing Zeldarina and tells Christmas fortunes through a Christmas bauble. The third story covers the excitement of Christmas Eve and checking the tree on Christmas morning.

My review

This was a pleasant read and my five year old certainly liked it (mind you, her favourite part was that they cooked some biscuits which only happened on page one of the book!)

One Christmas is a realistic story as it shows children having very self-centred Christmas wishes and logic (pretending to sneak downstairs is not really sneaking down!), yet they also have compassion for their friend. The expression of that compassion in the form of making a gift is very realistic to me – I’ve seen children do it many times and it is always a precious thing.

Being in three parts, it can be broken over a few reading sessions but it is still short enough to read it all at once to a child. The text is easy to read, both in the wording and the length of text per page, but beyond an earlier reader to get very far.

As for the story, I enjoyed the simple concepts of Christmas and care. The lack of Mr B was a surprise – just not something I’d expect in a child’s Christmas story – but was done subtly and nicely so is not really an issue. Of course, taken as part of a series of books it makes more sense – although I couldn’t see any reference to Mr B dying in an online search of the other 5 books.

Page from 'Zelda and Ivy: One Christmas'

Christmas morning with Mum and Dad looking on

Zelda and Ivy are quite real – Zelda bosses her little sister and Ivy does as she’s told to be with her idolised big sister, yet they happily do things together. I found it a little strange that their parents are not mentioned or spoken to – they are in the Christmas morning pictures though!

I was impressed that the girls got something other than their wishes from Santa and Zelda was very gracious about it – there were no pouts, tantrums or sad faces. This was immediately overwhelmed by secondary gifts of exactly what they wanted which is a happy ending for the story but not so useful for discussions or learning!

The ending is very happy so the book leaves you with a sense of happiness about the enjoyment of Christmas. Dancing around together is just a perfect example of how Christmas is special through the little things, not the gifts.

Page from Zelda and Ivy: One Christmas

Ivy looking at her Christmas wish gift…


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