The Children’s Book Blog Christmas Countdown: Christmas Stories by Michael Morpurgo
For December I’ve decided to turn the children’s book blog into a sort of literary advent calendar. Every day of the month I’ll be posting a short recommendation of a wintry or Christmassy children’s book to warm your cockles or, in some cases, chill the blood. There’ll be something for readers of all ages, from picture books all the way up to YA. My choice for December 12th is this collection of four Christmas stories by Michael Morpurgo.
Michael Morpurgo really knows how to tug at the heart strings. He did it in War Horse, and he does it again in these four Christmas stories, each accompanied by pictures from four very different illustrators.
The first story is a modern-day tale about a 10-year-old boy whose father asks him to raise the Christmas goose on their family farm. The trouble is, as December 25th approaches, he just can’t face the idea of his goose ending up on the dinner table, so he hatches a plan to save her. Sophie Allsopp’s sweet illustrations make you wish with all your might that he succeeds!
The second is a fairy tale is illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, who is best known for her Blue Kangaroo picture books. It tells the story of a princess consumed by sorrow and her prince who offers his kingdom to the person who can make her smile again. Despite the antiquated, fairy tale form, the princess’s mysterious sadness will resonate with anyone who has suffered from or lived with depression in our own times, while the ending is suitably hopeful for a Christmas story.
Morpurgo returns to the familiar territory of the First World War with his third story, specifically the famous No Man’s Land football match played between British and German troops on Christmas Day 1914. Illustrations this time come courtesy of veteran children’s illustrator Michael Foreman, who beautifully contrasts the desolation of the battlefield with the warmth of the human beings who meet in it.
Last but not least is a retelling of the nativity story, from the point of view of the youngest shepherd. It’s a more down-to-earth rendition than most, and all the more likeable for it – the angel Gabriel, for example, comes out with things like, “I’m sorry to drop in on you unexpectedly like this… It must be an awful shock”. The laid-back prose is perfectly paired by Quentin Blake’s delightfully sketchy style.
All in all, it’s a very pretty book indeed, with four truly touching stories that would make ideal Christmas reading for five to eight year-olds.
Check back tomorrow to see which book is lurking behind the ‘calendar door’ for December 13th and catch up on my previous recommendations here
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and children’s author. She is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel set in Hackney. You can follow her on Twitter as @TheStoryMonsterTagged in: children's literature, christmas books, christmas children's books, Michael Morpurgo, War Horse
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