Christmas is quickly approaching, so bookseller Becks Popham has four festive reads that are perfect for building up the holiday hype.
The Chaos Before Christmas, written by Sarina Dickson and illustrated by Lily Emo
As someone who has worked in retail since 2008, Christmas has lost a little bit of its razzle-dazzle. However, if anything is going to slough off my Grinchy overcoat, it’s going to be children’s books and we’re kicking it off with The Chaos Before Christmas by Sarina Dickson and Lily Emo.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know why dragons aren’t a Christmas tradition. Maybe I’ll just have to make them one. As a dragon-obsessed kid (that’s never really grown out of it), thanks to my Ma and Pa introducing me to The Hobbit and Smaug, I would have relished this book.
This is a luscious, detail-heavy book with textures and patterns a-go-go
Amongst the diverse cast of characters (it’s great to see the casual inclusion of a wheelchair user and one that remains throughout the story) is Elroy McChristmas, an elf just about to graduate from Elf School. Elroy and their fellow classmates are preparing for their final exam but, as I’m sure we all understand, nerves get the better of Elroy and, OH NO! Their spell goes wrong, a hoard of dragons explode throughout the workroom and, as per the title, chaos ensues. Luckily ol’ mate Santa is there to rescue the day and soothe the wayward dragons with an enchanting lullaby. Through teamwork and a good old-fashioned singalong, order is restored and our elven gang graduate with flying colours. Even Elroy, who becomes the “conductor of a spiky, winged choir.”
This is a luscious, detail-heavy book with textures and patterns a-go-go. I especially love the gold foiling on the front cover, it really brings out the festive vibe. There is a lot to see and every re-read yields something new. Get ready to spend a lot of time on each page with your tamariki (or your 30-something flatmate) and expect to double back at least a dozen times. My favourite pages are the ones that show the chaos that erupts after Elroy miscasts the spell. Dragons, elves, toys and tinsel are strewn everywhere and Lily Emo’s wonderful illustration style really shines here. Even though we’ve had myriad retellings of The Night Before Christmas, Sarina Dickson’s rhymes are clever and never feel dull. They convey the message that it’s okay to be nervous and it’s okay to mess up because, through mistakes, you can sometimes find the things you’re truly best at.
The Chaos Before Christmas
Written by Sarina Dickson
Illustrated by Lily Emo
Published by Hachette NZ
Granny McFlitter: The Knit Before Christmas, written by Heather Haylock and illustrated by Lael Chisholm
We’re sticking to the theme here with another play on the Night Before Christmas, this time with a festive third instalment in the very lovely Granny McFlitter series. My Ma, being a self-confessed nutty-knitter, bought herself a copy of this book and had the following to say…
“I love Heather Haylock’s Granny McFlitter books. As a granny and a knitter it’s great to have stories like these to read to your grandies. This latest one is such fun, totally bonkers. And Lael Chisholm illustrates up a storm. I wish I could knit as fast as Granny McFlitter.”
We open the book and find ourselves down at the zoo. All the animals and keepers are settling down on Christmas Eve. Granny has decked out each of the enclosures in her knitted wonders and all the animals have their own stockings, ready for prezzies. But, during the night there’s a great clatter and my goodness, all the stockings have been unravelled! An emergency call to Granny and a breadcrumb yarn trail reveals a very rare Tufted Tweetlebird has unpicked all the knitting in order to build a nest of their eggs. In good conservational conscience, they leave the rare Tweetlebird alone and turn to our hero, Granny. She works her woolly magic, saves the day, and Santa can deliver his presents as planned.
Granny works her woolly magic, saves the day, and Santa can deliver his presents as planned
This is a really entertaining one to read aloud and it hoons along at a fair pace. In Haylock we trust for good rhymes and Lael Chisholm brings her signature sweetness to each page. A great addition to the McFlitter series.
Granny McFlitter: The Knit Before Christmas
Written by Heather Haylock
Illustrated by Lael Chisholm
Published by Penguin NZ
The Fairies’ Night Before Christmas Activity Book, written by Sarina Dickson and illustrated by Sarah Greig
It’s a little bit of a challenge to review an activity book when you don’t have tamariki immediately in your life. I really should have sent this to my eight-year-old nibling in Taupō and gotten her to review it but she has worse time management skills than I do, so you’d be getting that review in time for Christmas 2023. I’ll send it to her anyway as I need to keep up my ‘Best Aunty’ status.
Perfect for the holiday season, this activity book is packed to the rafters with puzzles, cutouts, crosswords, craft ideas, quizzes and more
Perfect for the holiday season, this activity book is packed to the rafters with puzzles, cutouts, crosswords, craft ideas, quizzes and more! There are even two whole pages of full-colour stickers—the gingerbread angel and the wee spider are especially cute. Sarah Greig’s simple illustrations really lend themselves to this format and, again, it’s great to see the inclusion of a wheelchair user. You can tell both Greig and Dickson have put in a lot of thought as to what to include and how to maximise the use of each page.
It was also an excellent decision to publish this alongside a te reo version. I, with much regret, cannot speak to the translation (done by Donovan Te Ahunui Farnham) as I only have very basic reo skills, so I will leave that review to an expert.
Although The Fairies Night Before Christmas Activity Book is not breaking the mould when it comes to these kinds of books, it’ll surely do what it needs to and keep the young’uns out of mischief (for the most part).
The Fairies’ Night Before Christmas Activity Book
Written by Sarina Dickson
Illustrated by Sarah Greig
Published by Hachette NZ
The Little Lambs’ Great New Zealand Christmas Rescue, written by Yvonne Mes and illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt
Our little cloven-hoofed quintet—having moved on from their Great New Zealand Easter Egg Hunt—have a quest to find the owners of the gifts that have fallen from Santa’s sleigh. Using their senses (smell, sight, hearing, touch) and their woollen smarts, our lambs trek across Aotearoa’s countryside and traverse the rivers and ocean to deliver the right presents to the right animal pals. Aleksandra Szmidt’s illustrations, though not totally my style, are vibrant and fun with cheeky throwbacks to previous pages and sneaky clues as to who the next present might be for. Keep your eyes peeled for possibly the world’s happiest Kōura (crayfish) who definitely has the snazziest gift of them all.
If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s an educational element to a picture book. At the back they have included an “about the animals in this book” page which gives a snippet of information about each of the four critters featured within—a very neat little detail.
Aleksandra Szmidt’s illustrations, though not totally my style, are vibrant and fun with cheeky throwbacks to previous pages and sneaky clues as to who the next present might be for
Yvonne Mes’ repetition of the first verse throughout is comforting and the whole book’s general rhythm flows well when read aloud (much to my 30-something-year-old flatmate’s delight). It’s a solid little story that isn’t a rehashing of your usual Christmas tale. It’s not a high-octane book and it doesn’t need to be; it’s engaging and would be a great gift idea for youngsters living overseas. I’m sure it’ll become a bedtime favourite for those near and far.
The Little Lambs’ Great New Zealand Christmas Rescue
Written by Yvonne Mes
Illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt
Published by Hachette NZ
Ex-Unity Books children’s book buyer and currently one of the senior booksellers at Good Books, Becks is an artist, illustrator and general loaf who wants nothing better than to huddle somewhere quiet to read.