Review 22: Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien, illustrated by J. R. R. Tolkien

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About the author and illustrator

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on the 3rd January 1892 in Bloemfontein. He moved to England when he was three years old and was home schooled with his younger brother and taught by his mother. Tolkien served in the First World War and after the war he established a distinguished academic career and was recognised as one of the finest philologists in the world. He is best known as the creator of Middle Earth and the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was awarded a CBE and an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University in 1972. He died on 2nd September 1973 at the age of 81.

Blurb

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J. R. R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful colour drawing. They were from Father Christmas, telling wonderful tales of life at the North Pole.

  • How all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place.
  • How the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of father Christmas’s house into the dining-room.
  • How he broke the Moon into four pieces and made age Man in it fall into the back garden.
  • How there were wars with the troublesome horse of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house!

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories.

Review

I got this book off my best friend for my birthday as she knows I love all things Tolkien and she knew I had not got this book. I am so pleased I saved this book for Christmas as it really put me in a Festive mood and made me smile from ear to ear.

The first letter in the book is sent in 1920 to John, Tolkien’s oldest child and we meet Father Christmas, the letter is only short but there is a beautiful drawing of Father Christmas that could easily be made into a Christmas card. There is then a gap and the next letter is in 1923, then basically from then on there is a letter until 1943 when Tolkien’s children are all too old for Father Christmas.

The first letters are sent to just John and then Michael and Christopher are added and finally Priscilla, although as each child reaches a certain age and they stop writing to Father Christmas they are dropped off the letters. Although good old Father Christmas always asks after the older children and pets in the house, so they are not forgotten.

Some letters are very short if Father Christmas is busy that year and some are very long, especially if Father Christmas has a tale to tell the children. Father Christmas has a helper called Polar Bear who is in fact a Polar Bear, a very special bear who does not age and is very strong but also rather clumsy and causes poor Father Christmas a great deal of extra work. Eventually Father Christmas also gets some Elves to help him get everything ready for Christmas.

The effort Tolkien put into the letters is amazing, the handwriting is unique to Father Christmas and is shaky like a very old man is writing and the illustrations are stunning. I loved reading all the letters and I can imagine how Tolkien’s children must have been so excited when the letters arrived each year. It really is like magic, Tolkien made sure his children believed in the wonder of magic and fairytales, the things all children should believe in and let their imaginations run wild.

This edition of the book is beautiful, it has all the pictures of the original letters so we can see all the handwriting Tolkien created and opposite is a typed up version so the reader can read the text with ease. Then there are also all the illustrations in colour with the letters. The fact that the book is also printed on excellent quality shiny paper is perfect for showing off Tolkien’s work.

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I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars because of the magic and beauty it had but it did not get the full 5 stars because it made me sad at the end when the children were too old for letters off Father Christmas. In my opinion you are never too old for Father Christmas and believing in the magic.

Lady Book Dragon.

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Review 21: Magic Windows by Ernest Nister

Magic Windows: An Antique Revolving Picture Book by Ernest Nister

About the Author

Ernest Nister was a born in 1841 in Germany and was a publisher and printer of movable books for children, he also printed greetings cards, post cards and calendars. He refined the techniques used in the design of pop up books, magic windows and dissolving pictures. He published all his books from a toy-making centre based in Nuremberg in the nineteenth century.

Review

As some of you know from my Christmas Eve Traditions post, I read this book ever year, but I have never reviewed it before, so I thought it was time to have a review.

This book has a very dear place in my heart so I am afraid I am rather biased but I will try to give a non biased review.

This book is essentially a picture book, on each double page you have a poem on the left page and a relating image on the right that when you slide the ribbon across changes image. An example of the changing image is below.

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The book only has 7 poems and relating pictures so it is only small but because of how the moving pictures are built the pages are double thickness so the book is thicker than expected for so few poems and pictures. However the illustrations are beautiful and you do get two per page instead of one due to the magic window element. The poems are very cute and simple and perfect for children, but for today’s modern children I am not sure they would hold a child’s attention but I am sure the moving pictures would have them hooked.

I’m not sure I appreciated this book as a child but as an adult I love it. I love the beauty of the illustrations and the simplicity of the moving images which work so well and the little poems that are so easy to understand and just make you smile.

This book is a reproduction of the original which came out in the Victorian period and for this reason I do think most children would sadly find the book boring but for the older reader I think they would appreciate the skill and beauty of the book and find enjoyment from reading it.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars purely because I love it to bits but when I was a child I would have probably given it a 3 out of 5 because I did not appreciate the poetry but enjoyed the pictures.

Lady Book Dragon.

Review 20: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

The Snowman (A new story inspired by the original tale by Raymond Briggs) by Michael Morpurgo and illustarted by Robin Shaw

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About the author

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Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

About the illustrator

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Robin Shaw is an award winning animator and illustrator, he is also a director of animated commercials. He has worked closely with Raymond Briggs in the past and was part of the directing team of The Snowman and the Snowdog. In 2017 he designed a series of animated sequences for Paddington 2.

Blurb

When James wakes to see snow falling one December morning, he rushes outside to make a snowman. With coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf, and a tangerine nose, the snowman is perfect. James can hardly bear to inside that evening and leave him. But in the middle of the night, he wakes and creeps out to see his snowman again- and to his amazement, the snowman comes to life…

Review

Firstly, I have a confession, I have never read The Snowman by Raymond Briggs but I have watched it on television many, many times. I have only seen The Snowman and the Snowdog once and it almost destroyed me emotionally so I have never seen it again. So when I saw this book sat on the supermarket shelf I immediately picked it up. I was a little worried as I always fear rewrites as most of the time they are never as good as the original, but then I saw it was done by Michael Morpurgo and realised I should have no fears because the man is a genius.

I was so pleased I trusted my instincts, as the story was wonderful, another triumph by Morpurgo. The story is based around James a little boy who suffers with a stammer and who is desperate to have a friend. James lives with his parents on a farm and for Christmas his grandma is staying with them at the farm. Grandma’s favourite story to read James at bedtime is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

During the night James’ wish is answered and it snows and so he builds a snowman, a giant of a snowman who towers above everyone wearing a green scarf and hat with a big tangerine nose. James loves this snowman and wants to spend all day with him, he is also really proud of his new friend and is desperate for his family to meet the snowman. Finally at nighttime he leaves the snowman but then in the night something magical happens, and James is not the only one to witness the magic of the snowman.

The story is very similar to the original but with a few subtle differences but this is what makes it a different tale to stand on its own. The story is full of magic and is very respectful of the original, this is just like a sequel to the original in fact. I also loved that when Morpurgo was approached to write this story he was worried and so approached Raymond Briggs who thankfully gave his blessing. The respect that Morpurgo has for Raymond Briggs’ story is humbling and comes through in his version of The Snowman.

I loved the character of James, I felt sorry for him, happy for him and he just made me smile and think aww. I also really liked Grandma, she is a Grandma who still believes in magic. I think this is a fantastic book for children and adults and a perfect read for around Christmas. The illustrations were also beautiful and really added to the story. I hope it gets turned into an animated film, as I think it would be perfect. I gave this book 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Plus I loved the extras at the end of the story, the Christmas traditions from other countries and the perfect method for making the best snowman.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 19: Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

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About the author

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Veronica Henry went to eight different schools due to having a parent in the army. Henry studied Classics at Bristol University and a bi-lingual secretarial course. One of her first jobs was working as a Production Secretary on The Archers at Pebble Mill in Birmingham; it used to take her two and a half hours to type up the script on a typewriter. From there Henry became a script writer for Central Television. Henry has worked on Crossroads, Boon, Heartbeat, and Holby City. In 2000 Henry got her first book published and has never looked back, she has now written 19 novels and is working on her 20th.

Blurb

Everyone loves Christmas…

Especially Lizzy Kingham. But this year, she is feeling unloved and under appreciated by her family. The present-buying, decorating and food shopping have all been left to her. So she wonders…what would happen if she ran away and left them to it?

Lizzy heads to her favourite place: a beach hut on the golden sands of Everdene. There she meets an unlikely collection of new friends, all running away from something. But the spirit of Christmas gets under Lizzy’s skin: soon the fairy lights are twinkling and the scent of mulled wine mingles with the sea air.

Back at Pepperpot Cottage, her family are desperate to find her. For Christmas isn’t Christmas without Lizzy. Can they track her down in time and convince her she means the world to them, every day of the year?

Review

This is another of my Christmas reads and so far my favourite. I recently read a short story by Henry and really enjoyed it so I was pleased to find she had written a Christmas book. I must admit it put me through a great deal of emotions, it made me smile, giggle, cry and much more. It was a wonderful read and I have bought a copy for my best friend to read over Christmas and I am lending my copy to my mom to read and I think they will both really enjoy the book.

The book is centred around Lizzy Kingham who is a wife and mother of two teenagers, she has also recently taken voluntary redundancy from her job at a hotel as wedding and events planner. Life has suddenly got overwhelming for poor Lizzy, she has no job and all the jobs she has applied for have fallen through, she is worried about her children going off to university and no longer needing her anymore. She suddenly feels like she is not needed by her family and that they do not care about her. The last straw is when none of them come home to decorate the tree with her, the one family tradition that means the world to her and so she leaves for Christmas on her own.

As the story unfolds we meet other characters who also need to escape Christmas. First we meet Harley, a teenage boy who is about the same age as Lizzy’s twins, his father is in prison and his mother is in a relationship with a bully of a man who likes to provoke and make Harley’s life a misery, so Harley leaves the house to stay at one of the beach huts he looks after as a part time job. This beach hut is also the same one Lizzy is staying at, they instantly become friends and help each other to have a good Christmas. The next characters to enter the scene are Jack, his son Nat and Clouseau the French bulldog. Jack and Nat have a very sad history and the memories of Christmas have all got a bit much for Jack so he decides to escape the memories and history and stay at a client’s beach hut over Christmas. This beach hut is right next door to Lizzy’s and Harley’s. We also eventually meet Leanne, Harley’s mother and River, Harley’s little brother.

Left at Pepperpot Cottage is Simon, Lizzy’s husband and Hattie and Luke the twins. Eventually we also meet Cynthia, Simon’s mother and also find out why Lizzy finds it so hard to be around Cynthia. I really enjoyed how they all realised suddenly what they had put Lizzy through, they had all been wrapped up in their own lives and just taking Lizzy for granted. The sudden realisation they might have lost her for good to me was justice for their lack of care and asking Lizzy if she is ok and doing what she asks. She never asks for much and does not nag, she is always there with a smile, a listening ear and whatever they need but they have not been there for her or noticed she is not coping.

There are a lot of characters in this book and I really enjoyed how Henry made all their lives entwine and made the most unlikely group of people the best of friends. I also enjoyed the little snapshots of their past, Henry did not go crazy into detail but gave just enough for the reader to understand. Jack’s memories brought me to tears, I found them really hard to read about and very moving. Lizzy’s memories of how she met Simon were very romantic but at the same time believable. I think the main thing I enjoyed about this book was how all the characters were realistic and relatable. Everything about the book feels like they are drawn from real life.

I adored the ending of this book and it really put me in a festive mood. This book is a feel good read and I could not recommend it more to people, especially if what they are looking for is an easy light hearted read to make them smile. I have rated this book 5 stars out of 5 and I can not wait to read another book by Veronica Henry.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 18: Coming Home by Michael Morpurgo

Coming Home by Michael Morgurgo

Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

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About the Author

Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

About the Illustrator

Hyndman has a degree in fine art from Newcastle University and an MA in Illustration from Kingston University. She now works as a freelance illustrator and map maker based in London. Hyndman is also an associate lecturer in Illustration at Goldsmiths University.

Blurb

A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lightning. Across frozen wastes, huge mountains and stormy seas he flies. And all the while he’s dreaming of home. Of her. But will he ever get there?

Review

Another book off my Christmas reading list. This is my accidental find as I was trying to find another book called Coming Home but forgot the author’s name and so just typed in the title and this came up. I am so pleased I did find it as it was a beautiful book to read.

A very quick read for me but enjoyable, and the illustrations were excellent. This book is all about a robin’s flight home, through perilous conditions but all he thinks about is getting home to his mate.

This book is very short, even for a children’s book and to be honest a little scary, I was very worried about the little robin especially when he was attacked. I am not entirely sure a child would enjoy it in some places, unless they are made of stronger stuff than I.

The story is fast paced and Morpurgo’s use of language is simple but perfectly descriptive and rolls along. It made me want to say it out loud, it was so full of drama and had a rhythm to it, which is probably why I read it so quickly. I went back through it when I had finished it to truly enjoy and look at the illustrations. My favourite illustration is below, the details of the birds are just stunning, I would happily have it framed on my wall.

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At the end of the story there is a list of facts about Scandinavian robins, this list is brilliant! I never even knew there were Scandinavian robins, let alone their migrating habits and that they are almost identical to our own English robins. 

This book I rated 4 stars out of 5, it did not get the full 5 because it was just too short for me! I wanted more about the little robin. I leave you with another of my favourite pages. A beautiful read for both children and adults.

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Lady Book Dragon.

Review 17: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

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About the author

Pamela Lyndon Travers was born in Australia in 1899 and her birth name was Helen Lyndon Goff. She was first published in her teenage years and also worked briefly as a Shakespearean actress. At the age of 25 she emigrated to England and changed her name to Pamela Lyndon Travers, she adopted the pen name P. L. Travers in 1933, when she started writing the Mary Poppins series. Walt Disney tried for years to get the rights for Mary Poppins to be made into a film, he even visited her several times at her house in London. Eventually Disney obtained the rights and the film Mary Poppins film was released in 1964. Travers did write many other novels, poetry and works of non-fiction but she is mainly remembered for Mary Poppins. She received an OBE in 1977 and died in 1996.

Blurb

When Mary Poppins arrives at their house on a gust of the East Wind, and slides up the banister, Jane and Michael Banks’s lives are turned magically and wonderfully upside down…

Review

Another book off my Christmas reading list finished and enjoyed. I’ve never read any of the Mary Poppins stories before but I have watched the film many times over, I used to happily sing along to all the songs and must admit I still do. I must admit I am looking forward to the new film coming out but only because one of my students stars in the film. I am not usually a fan of remakes if truth be told. When Waterstones emailed advertising this book I ordered it straight away and got a signed copy, always a thrill.

The first thing I noticed was that the story is abridged which was a little disappointing but the gorgeous illustrations more than made up for that. The story is based around the Banks family who are in need of another nanny and that is where Mary Poppins comes in.

The Banks family consists of Mr Banks the father and head of the house who is rather tight with money and goes out to work each day at the bank. Mrs Banks is the mother and is always out being very busy doing things and making sure the house is running correctly. The children are Michael and Jane the two oldest and the main characters of the story and the young twins John and Barbara who have a chapter of their own but are not otherwise really mentioned. Then there is Mrs Ellen who is the cook, Ellen the maid and Robertson Ay who is the butler but who is also a little useless.

Michael and Jane are rather naughty children and have driven away another Nanny and so Mary Poppins turns up to be the new Nanny. Mary Poppins instantly comes across as different to the children, to begin with she seems to arrive with the wind and then she sits at the bottom of the banister and slides up the staircase. The children know that Mary is different and soon begin to realise her ways and methods. The other thing I love about the children is their view of the world, a good example of this is the fact that they think their dad physically makes money at the bank. When I read this I had the image of Mr Banks sat there cutting out and minting coins and this is what I think the children also imagine their father does each day at work. I found the image adorable and it put a big smile on my face. Travers is a talented writer in this respect and fully understands the way a child’s mind works.

Mary Poppins was a bit of a surprise to me, firstly I could not believe how vain she is, she is constantly looking at her own reflection and deliberately wears clothes and hats that she knows are different and look good on her. The two children get frustrated with her when they go out as she constantly stops at windows to look at herself. In this respect I do not think she sets a good example to the children and I would not like to be around a person who did this either so I understand the children’s frustration. Mary Poppins is also very bossy which I was not happy about but she did get results from the children so I suppose it worked. I also found it odd how she called all birds sparrows, even pigeons, thankfully the children knew better.

I did not find Michael and Jane to be very naughty and thought that the previous nanny must have had a very low threshold of behaviour for the children to drive her to leave. I found the children inquisitive and just like normal happy high spirited children but maybe my opinion is a modern opinion and the time the story was written children were still meant to be seen and not heard.

My favourite chapter was in fact the chapter based around John and Barbara and how when they reach the age of one everything changes. I found this chapter really sweet and it made me smile, it also made me a little sad but in a good way. The illustrations for this chapter also reminded me greatly of the TV series that Child created called Charlie and Lola. The other highlight of this chapter was the cheeky starling.

I did enjoy this book and I want to read the full version and maybe some of the sequels but it did disappoint in some areas, the main being Mary Poppins, she just came across as grumpy. The best characters were the children I loved their naivety and their undying love of Mary Poppins even though they can see her flaws they still love her and have also learnt how to get what they want from her. The other reason I enjoyed this book so much was the illustrations, Child is very talented and she really made the story come alive. I only gave this book 3 out 5 stars because it felt like a lot had been cut from the story and it seemed to detract from the storyline and at times felt rushed and disjointed. Also I struggled to accept Mary Poppins at times.

A beautiful book well worth the read and I will happily recommend it to children and adults. I will leave you with my favourite illustration from the book.

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Lady Book Dragon

Review 16: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

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About the author

Chris Van Allsburg was born June 1949 and is an American author and illustrator of children’s books. Van Allsburg attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan and majored in sculpture. Van Allsburg started sketching at home and his wife encouraged him to illustrate children’s books, he then went on to write and illustrate his first children’s book The Garden of Abdul Gasazi in 1979. He has won two Caldecott Medals for U.S picture book illustration, both books he also wrote. To date Van Allsburg has written and illustrated about twenty books and has also illustrated children’s books for HarperCollins.

Blurb

Late on Christmas Eve, a boy boards a mysterious train: The Polar Express bound for the North Pole. When he arrives there, Santa offers him any gift he desires. The boy modestly asks for a bell from a reindeer’s harness, but this turns out to be a very special gift…

Review

So this book was not on my Christmas reading list but I bought some Christmas presents from Waterstones and this might have slipped in on the order. I know have a problem with buying books but I regret nothing!

This evening after a long day teaching I managed to put a few more Christmas decorations up and I rewarded myself with a mug of tea and this book to read. I was really looking forward to this book as I love the film. I have been singing the soundtrack from the film all evening.

The book is about a little boy who is excitedly waiting on Christmas Eve to see Father Christmas but instead a train pulls up outside his house. This little boy is desperately hoping to hear the sleigh bells even though his friend has told him he will never hear them as Father Christmas does not exist. The little boy gets on the Polar Express to go to the North Pole to see who will be chosen to receive the first Christmas present from Father Christmas.

I enjoyed the story of the book and the significance of the little boy’s chosen gift of the sleigh bell, it made me smile but at the same time it also made me sad. The sadness came because the book shows the truth we all know so well, some people forget the magic of Christmas and lose the wonder. This I hope I never lose, no matter how busy I get at Christmas or how stressed I hope I still see the wonder, magic and beauty of the Christmas season.

The story is a lovely little children’s story and the illustrations are beautiful but I must admit I found the movie more impressive, maybe because I have known the movie longer and always loved it. I also just felt the story was rushed and I wanted the story to be a bit longer and padded out, I just could not seem to gel with the author’s writing style. I give the story 3 out of 5 stars because it made me feel a little blue instead of the warm fuzzy feeling I was after.

Lady Book Dragon