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PICTURE BOOK CAROUSEL: The True Meaning of Christmas

Posted on Dec 9, 2011

The two books I am reviewing today stood out amongst the huge offering of new Christmas books for their more unusual, and yet all the more important, Christmas message.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

Helen Ward
(Templar)

Helen Ward’s retelling of the famous Aesop’s Fable is not strictly a Christmas story, but it is 1930s New York at Christmas time  that the illustrator has chosen as a setting for the town scenes. Tempted out of his peaceful countryside by tales of a magical place by his City cousin, the Country mouse arrives in the Electric City to be met with unexpected hustle and bustle. The cousin’s home turns out to be treacherous and without the peace which the country mouse soon yearns. And so soon he goes back to the contentment of his humble home. The lavish illustrations of the Christmas scenes are absolutely remarkable, as are the stunningly detailed illustrations of the fauna and flora of the countryside. The use of colour is particularly beautiful, with vibrant colours used to emphasise the beauty the country flowers and the luxury of the Christmas decorations, presents and food spread.

 

Although the traditional moral of the tale is retained here, with the context of the Christmas theme within the house in the city, one can also assume that the message of this tale is that food aplenty, luxurious and comfortable surroundings is not always what can make one happy. This message about material things not necessarily bringing happiness and that simple things in life should be cherished is one that I hope little audiences will take away from this story. This is a splendidly beautiful  book, which has enchanted each and every adult and child I have shown it to. If you are looking for a visually stunning, stylish and atmospheric Christmas story, this most definitely is the one for you.

All illustrations © Helen Ward

Many thanks to Templar Books for providing a review copy of “The  Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”.

Just Right
Birdie Black (text) & Rosalind Beardshaw (illustrations)
(Nosy Crow)

When the King finds the perfect roll of cloth, which is “so red and soft and Christmassy”, to make a cloak for his daughter, he starts a rather unusual chain of events. Once the cloak is made, the scraps of cloth are left outside the castle’s back door and is picked up by the kitchen maid who makes a cardigan for her mum out of it. And so begins the journey of the cloth, each smaller bundle of offcuts being discovered by someone new and made into something then left outside their door, until there is nothing left. From kitchen maid to badger, and squirrel to mouse, each enjoys using the cloth to make a present for a loved one.

There is such a positive, “makes you all warm inside” message in this book. It is all about the joy of giving, but also the joy of receiving a present, even a small one, which has obviously been made with love; there is also a quite a clear endorsement of reusing and recycling. In an age where many children are more concerned about how much is spent or how much they receive rather than just be simply grateful about getting something, there is something rather comforting about the sentiments in Just Right. It might not change little people’s attitudes to consumerism (and unfortunately, it does start young these days) but such a simple, caring story might just remind them about what Christmas should really be about.

Repetition within the text and the structure of this story make Just Right a really pleasant read-aloud which young audiences will find very entertaining.
The illustrations are soft, seasonal and very child-friendly. The animals are drawn in a way I found  reminiscent of Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper series. The style is different, but the animals are similarly kind and cuddly-looking.
Just Right is a lovely Christmas story for young readers focusing on what should be important at this time of year. It is my favourite Christmas book published this year for the younger end of the age-range.

All illustrations © Rosalind Beardshaw

Many thanks to Nosy Crow  for providing a review copy of “Just Right”.

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