Christmas stories without Santa

Grumpy Badger’s Christmas
by Paul Bright, illustrated by Jane Chapman
(Little Tiger Press)
Christmas is approaching fast and the woodland animals are excited and busy with their preparations. All that is except Grumpy Badger for whom it’s all ‘piffle’; he just wants to be left  alone to bed in for his winter sleep. Things don’t go his way though. The stream of interrupters that knock on his door make him grumpier and grumpier. But will a real emergency soften his gruff exterior? Jane Chapman’s illustrations really do convey Badger’s feelings but not without a touch of humour.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star
by Petr Horacek
(Walker Books)
Impetuous as ever, but with the best of intentions, Suzy Goose sets out to catch a star for the top of the Christmas tree. Despite her plans and determination, Suzy never reaches that illusive star; instead she finds herself lost in a snowstorm. But happily there is something else to follow – the sound of her friends.
Suzy Goose and friends stand out against the dramatic night sky and snow swept landscapes in Horacek’s mixed media illustrations in this story for the very young.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Pocket’s Christmas Wish
by Ann Bonwill & Russell Julian
(Oxford University Press)
When little white rabbit, Pocket, sees a snow angel on Christmas morning he asks her the meaning of Christmas. The angel remains silent so he follows the trail of children’s footprints leading from her, determined to find the answer. The atmospheric snowy scenes tinged with purple, catch the mood of this gentle and sentimental seasonal story for the very young.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Christmas Spirit
by Robert Westall
(Catnip)
Set in the nineteen thirties, both stories in this book successfully evoke the era of the depression without being depressing themselves. The first tells how a girl’s miserable Christmas with her equally miserable uncle is transformed by an act of kindness to a pregnant cat. The second is a spooky story set on Christmas Eve where a ghost gives a boy the task of preventing a disaster. Although Santa gets a mention in this story, there’s no attempt to suggest he’s real – hence, the book’s position on this page.
The book has black and white illustrations which combine with the text to provide an enjoyable read for children and adults.
8+
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The Snow Angel
by Christine Leeson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
(Little Tiger Press)
It’s Christmas morning and after opening their presents, two little mice go out to play in the snow. Suddenly they see an amazing sight up above, something with gleaming wings. Could it be a Christmas angel? But then the beautiful creature falls from the sky, lost, tired and hungry and the act of kindness the little mice perform is in the true spirit of Christmas.
A sprinkling of stardust glitter adds a sparkle to every turn of the page.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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An African Christmas
by Ifeoma Onyefulu
(Frances Lincoln)
A very unusual and fascinating Christmas information story set in a Nigerian village where Afam and his family live. There, a special masked dance called Mmo is performed which, although not a Christian ritual, nevertheless forms apart of the Christmas festivities. Afam, who loves to dress up, is determined to be a Mmo and wear a fantastically coloured mask and costume. He sets about collecting what he needs but his family’s Christmas preparations keep impinging on his time. Finally however, thanks to the generosity of some of the other villagers, Afam has his Mmo finished – just in time to perform a celebratory dance.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Tickly Christmas Wibbly Pig!
by Mick Inkpen
(Hodder Children’s Books)
Wibbly’s Big Aunt Larlie loves to knit but Wibbly is less than impressed with the tickly scarf (last year’s present) and the tickly gloves (from the year before that), so he’s wondering what this year will bring – especially as Big Aunt Larlie is coming to stay. Could be it be a hat perhaps? Then, on Christmas Eve, the doorbell rings and it seems Aunt Larlie is wearing the anticipated hat, so just what will Wibbly’s present be? Well, there’s a surprise in store, this year…
Great fun for sharing with the very young and nice big print for those who want to try reading the story themselves.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Wenceslas
by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Christian Birmingham
(Doubleday)
The Victorian carol is the inspiration for Geraldine McCaughrean. She takes Neale’s bare, spare original and fleshes out and clothes it with rich poetic language and description. Christian Birmingham’s illustrations are a stunning Bohemian rhapsody of blues and golds, which
illuminate the retelling, through Peter the page’s eyes, of the story of his and the king’s bone-numbing journey through the snow to share Christmas with a poor peasant family.
Like the carol that is its inspiration, this picture book is about the joy of giving and doesn’t mention the nativity.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Mog’s Christmas
by Judith Kerr
(Harper Collins)
A timely reissue starring a much loved character whose antics have been
delighting young listeners and readers for over thirty years. Mog feels
totally at odds with life as the Thomas family are all busy preparing
for Christmas and when she sees a tree walking towards her it’s
the last straw; she takes refuge on the roof. That’s where she stays
all night, then all of a sudden it’s not Santa who comes crashing
down the chimney next morning…
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J.Lynch
(Walker Books)
Jonathan Toomey, the woodcarver, seldom smiles and never laughs because
he has never recovered from the death of his wife and baby son. Then the
widow McDowell and her son Thomas ask him to carve them a wooden nativity
site to replace one they have lost. As he works, their gentle friendship
gradually thaws his frozen heart until the task of carving Mary with her
baby forces him to finally face his grief. A beautifully written story with
wonderful use of language that subtly reveals the changes in Jonathan and
weaves in the love story without actually mentioning it. The text is much
longer than most picture books so is suitable for older children and well
worth reading with KS2 classes.
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Star’s Turn
by Linda Newbery
(Corgi)
Star the donkey feels inferior to his prize winning pony friend, Moon,
until he is chosen for a starring role in the local nativity play. This
slightly predictable but never the less appealing story has plenty of
black and white illustrations which are only marred by the illustrator’s
ignorance of what a halter looks like. A good stocking filler for beginner
readers.
Ages 5-8
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The Glass Angels
by Susan Hill
(Walker)
Set just after the Second World War, this short novel tells the story
of Tilly and her determination to have proper a Christmas despite rationing,
poor housing and her mother’s illness. Well written so both the characters
and the setting come alive. A good choice for more able readers, especially
girls.
Ages 8-12
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Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas
by Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest
(Collins)
This is sure to awake nostalgic memories in grandparents who grew up with
Little Grey Rabbit, Hare and Fuzzypeg the Hedgehog. Ideal for sharing
those memories with the youngest generation.
Ages 3-7
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An Angel just like me
by Mary Hoffman
(Frances Lincoln)
When the angel for the Christmas tree breaks, young Tyler asks why all
the angels in the shops are girls and pink. Why aren’t any of them boys
and black like him? He wants “an angel just like me” and, thanks
to a good friend, he eventually gets one. This is a thought provoking
story which offers a good opportunity to talk about race and different
appearances. But it’s not at all preachy and children will enjoy the story
for its own sake, identifying with Tyler and his desire.
Read aloud 5-8. Read alone – fluent readers
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