review

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.

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'

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.

That’s not my reindeer – Christmas book review

That’s not my reindeer!

by Fiona Wattcover image of "That's not my reindeer" board book
Illustrated by Rachel Wells
published by Usborne Publishing, London, 2007

Age group: baby to toddler

A Christmas addition to the “That’s not my…” series of books, my children and I enjoyed reading this together. My family has long loved this series of books, starting with the ‘that’s not my monster’ given to my son as a baby. We’ve even played ‘that’s my …’ as a game on long drives! So I could not resist That’s not my reindeer when I saw it in a shop 🙂

The story

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

My review

picture of a reindeer with sparkly bells on his reindsIt is a board book, with large, colourful images and a short, repetitive sentence on each double page spread. To make it even more appealing to young children, each reindeer has a touchy-feely component such as the soft fur on the front cover and some sparkly bells. This is a great way to teach some vocabulary as they see and touch something while hearing the word.

There were no surprises in the book for us, and it obviously doesn’t have a complex plot to comment on, but we all enjoyed it anyway – and my six year old liked being able to read it herself. It is not overtly a Christmas book, although there are some fir trees in the background, so it can be enjoyed all year round. At 6 and 7, they questioned how bells can be too sparkly and instantly took the red nosed reindeer to be Rudolph – and their favourite!

Definitely a nice book for a baby or toddler, and likely to be enjoyed long past two or three years of age. I’m glad I grabbed it! I thoroughly recommend it for anyone after a baby/toddler Christmas book.

BHG Christmas edition review

Better Homes & Garden Christmas magzineSo the latest edition of Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) magazine is out and it is based around Christmas and includes a Christmas cookbook attachment. I grabbed the magazine for inspiration (and witches fingers – see below) and thought I’d share my thoughts on the magazine as I did last year.

BHG “Hello Christmas” December 2016

It does feel a little ridiculous calling it a December edition when I bought it in October, but that is fairly common practice these days… Ironically, the editor writes as if the magazine isn’t published in October (she refers to some people starting Christmas preparations in October as if that was a while ago!) And yet the Priceline advertising feature (6 pages at one end of the magazine) talks about October being Breast Cancer Awareness month

The magazine includes some delicious recipes such as a chocolate orange fruitcake, prawns with hazelnut mayo and seared eye fillet with gado gado-style salad – I’m looking forward to trying some out 🙂

I really like that it includes some Christmas crafts and ideas that are not budget busting, like making coloured linens instead of paying a fortune for pre-made tablecloths and napkins.

On the other hand I just rolled my eyes at the December events calendar – all very interesting if you are in NSW or Queensland but not inclusive for the rest of Australia. Actually, there is a listing for Christmas Melodies in Melbourne (never heard of it before!) but ignoring Carols by Candlelight at the Myer Music Bowl  and other states is a bit nauseating.

If you are looking for recipes and craft ideas for Christmas, then this magazine will help you – and also give you some gardening and decorating information.

BHG “Your amazing Christmas cookbook” 2016

This 36 page cookbook has both recipes and tips for cooking meat beautifully for your Christmas events.

It starts with recipes for chicken, ham and pork (complete with crackling!) then moves onto side dishes such as whole roast cauliflower cheese and roast beetroot with figs, goat’s cheese and thyme. Of course, it finishes off with a Christmas pudding and brandy custard, and some pav stacks.

I haven’t tried the recipes yet, but they are written in clear steps with pictures so I think they will work fairly easily.Better Homes & Garden Cookbook

Witches fingers

witch finger shaped healthy biscuits

Biscuits that look like witches fingers suit Halloween more than Christmas!

Ok, this is definitely a Halloween recipe rather than Christmas but I had the magazine in time for Halloween and my kids had seen these made on the TV show and were keen to try them at home!

It is a simple recipe in that you throw everything in together and mix, but I found it more challenging and it took a lot longer than 10 minutes to prepare them! The mixture is quite thick and sticky while also needing to break up the nuts and fruit. I didn’t use a food processor but tried a vitamiser and hand processor – it was hard work! I’d suggest reducing the size of the nuts before adding everything else.

Santa shaped biscuits

Colour used as eyes and mouth instead of witches nails!

I couldn’t resist trying them in Christmas shapes, and will play with this recipe a bit as I can’t send these to school as they are (no nut policy) – so watch out for a Christmassy adaptation of Fast Ed’s witches fingers!

Emily’s Bush Christmas – Christmas book review

Emily’s Bush Christmas

by Jackie French
cover of "Emily's Bush Christmas"Illustrated by Bruce Whatley
published by Harper Collins, Sydney, 2008

Age group: preschool to mid-primary

Coming from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, you already know this book will be fun, child-friendly and accurately depict Australian animals.

The story

It’s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully and most of the animals are having fun, but Emily Emu is concerned that Bunyip isn’t having fun so everyone tries to make Bunyip smile.

My review

It’s a fun book, with lovely images of bush animals – including the familiar faces of Josephine the dancing kangaroo, Pete the sheep and the diary writing wombat.inside pages of "Emily's Bush Crhistmas", showing emus and an echidna food holder!

Bunyip is grumpy so does not appreciate the attempts of Emil and her friends to cheer him up – “Bunyips DON’T like Christmas!” – yet Emily keeps on trying.

It is a fun story that shows care for others and blends in the major features of Christmas (food, presents, carols, togetherness).

Both my children enjoyed it – my son’s favourite parts were the echidnas (one was wearing a swimming ring while another read the safety rules!) but was disappointed the Bunyip didn’t have bits of all Aussie animals such as a ‘roo tail. My six year old enjoyed it but when asked if it was because of the Aussie animals, she said “No, it was about Christmas!”

And to ensure adults can also enjoy this book, there are some jokes hidden in the pictures (like an Emu offering flying lessons!)

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”!

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