It’s time for my annual Christmas book ideas/gift guide. Welcome! I put a lot of time and effort into these series of posts to come up with titles that enjoy and recommend. As ever, especially for children, there will be a crossover of relevance depending on interest and capability, so keep your eye out for the rest of the posts. I’m all for book vouchers, and it can be hard to buy books, but I hope these suggestions are helpful because it is nice to receive one that’s been carefully chosen for a person in mind.
Let’s get started!
I caught up with a lot of my picture book reading during Book Week and among two of my favourites listed on the CBCA shortlist were Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas and The Sloth Who Came to Stay by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Vivienne To. These were for different reasons: Swan Lake (as we’ve seen) is a tale that is close to my heart and Spudvilas’s reinterpretation is gorgeous. Its structure is interesting as large parts of the text are contained to a few pages, denoting the different acts of the ballet, rather than featuring them throughout on each page, as is popular with many picture books (especially for early readers). This allows the illustrations to take centre stage (as it were); their mood and energy are perfect and appropriately dramatic. As you’ll see from A&U’s school notes, this is a text that can be analysed by older students as well.
The Sloth Who Came to Stay is yet another example of Wild’s genius, turning what is a very familiar scenario (the contemporary rushed family, trying to get everything done with no downtime) into something that is loving and non-judgemental. A family in the midst of this flurry is changed when a sloth comes and teaches them about the benefits of slow living. To’s CBCA-shortlisted illustrations are warm and invite many re-readings – something we could all do more of to slow down!
Moving on to new releases, the first is Wide Big World by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Isobel Knowles. It is a cheery, positive book about celebrating difference and I especially loved its rhythm: Beneba Clarke’s poetic roots are certainly on display and are a great compliment to the first person narration from a child’s perspective – for example, compounding adjectives the very same way they do is very realistic! I’d argue that will make it even more relatable to that age bracket.
My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey is the latest offering from the successful Witek/Roussey creative pairing and is a story about what kind of value we attach to ‘things’ and asking what other kinds of gifts we can give to others. This is a great message for younger readers first coming to this kind of topic. It also features lift flaps to stimulate engagement (who doesn’t love a lift-the-flap book!?).
I left Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers to last because I think it had the biggest emotional impact. It grabbed me in the opening sentence, ‘Finn lived by the sea and the sea lived by him’ and by the halfway point I had tears in my eyes. It is about how a grieving child, Finn, pays testament to his beloved grandfather by building a boat on the beach. When Finn falls asleep in his creation, he is taken on a journey to where the ocean meets the sky. There are echoes of Maurice Sendak’s Where The While Things Are in the story and illustrations, but this stands apart. It is luminous and richly detailed – visit the Fan Brothers website to check out the artwork.
Which books struck a chord with you? Have you read any?