I was going to title this Giving Up but I’m feeling more positive today and ought to reflect this.
Today I am letting go. I’m letting go of all the things that have to be done by Christmas.
Because, really, they don’t.
I’m letting go of panicking about getting things posted on time. I’m letting go of getting the photos ordered on time. I’m letting go of blogging every day. I’m letting go of stressing about the never ending to-do list.
I’m going to email the people I’ve not posted to and tell them I’m thinking of them. Because I am. And the gifts I should have packed and posted will be just as appreciated whatever date they arrive.
I’m going to relax in these last child-free moments and save my energy for being there for my children. I’m going (to try) to embrace mess and crafts for the next two weeks. I am going to play the board games endlessly. I am going to read that story again and again.
The twenty fifth of December shouldn’t be some kind of stressful deadline we must adhere too. It’s supposed to be a time to celebrate together.
So regardless of your religious orientation, Merry Christmas. I hope everyone has a calm and peaceful fortnight.
I probably will blog over the next fortnight but if I don’t find time, in not going to stress about that either. (I give myself about an hour before I’m stressing again, but I’ll try not to!)
We read hundreds of picture books every year in the Chaos household, and have many favourites and treasures. We recommend many beautiful books but my best advice is that one single (hardback if possible) book related to the interests of the person you’re buying for will be treasured most. With that in mind, here are 99 illustrated books organised in themes.
Although I am linking to Amazon, I recommend your local indie where possible. The Amazon page gives you all the details for them to order the book in for you 😉 If you do buy via these links, I will earn a small commission.
Every year I recommend David Melling’s The Tale of Jack Frost, and I will continue to do so. It looks like it’s out of print again this year, but perhaps it’s in stock locally or you can find it second hand. New for this year is Katie’s London Christmas, another stunningly illustrated instant classic from the talented James Mayhew. Starting in winter and taking a walk in the seasons is another beautiful gift book, My Hand in Your Hand. Although I’ve not seen either of these books I’m adding two recently published Twelve Days of Christmas books, one from Britta Teckentrup and one from Alison Jay. Given the illustrators (and publishers) of these two, I have no doubt they are well worth a look and either would make an excellent gift.
Animals and Pets
This is a very eclectic mix of books, but any would make an excellent gift. Betty Goes Bananas is a perfect observation of toddler tantrums, funny for parents and with repetition for little ones, this will get read again and again and again (or they’ll kick and scream…) Mad About Mega Beasts joins a series of bright and colourful collection of rhyming books from the team of Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz, great for any little one who loves beasties! Hog in the Fog is a beautifully illustrated rhyming tale of a search for a missing friend that fans of Julia Donaldson will love. With simple-looking bright pictures, You Can Do It Bert encourages Bert bird every step of the way to jumping off his branch. Not only a fun read, but good for talking about facing everyday fears too. A line of 50 named animals, but what are they waiting for? Line Up, Please is wonderful for vocabulary, but has a fun tale to tell too – much more interesting than an animal word book. Sloths are surprisingly popular in picture books, but they are so cute! Both Sloth Slept On and The Lazy Friend use a sleeping sloth with the story unfolding around it unaware, but in very different ways. The Lazy Friend is wordless and animal focuses, Sloth Slept On focuses on a group of children who find a sloth and try to find out where it came from. Both are wonderful. I’ve also added Sparky, which I’ve not seen but looks beautiful. Finally, but certainly not least, Bears Don’t Read is just essential for all book lovers. And I’ve added Plumdog which I’ve also not seen but know will be gorgeous, as all Emma Chichester Clark’s books are.
Friendship and People
Hug Me is a beautiful book about the need to be loved, and to love. Felipe the cactus will be loved by young children and can be enjoyed on many different levels, just gorgeous. Memorial is quite deep and slightly depressing but full of hope, so actually it does work well for this time of year and anything illustrated by Shaun Tan is just beautiful, one perhaps for history students. Hooray for Hat celebrates friendship and how small things can brighten the grumpiest of days. Toddlers will relate to being grumpy, but this will appeal to all ages too. My Little Star would make a lovely gift for new parents. Nicola O’Byrne’s beautiful illustrations married with Mark Sperring’s text celebrating the love between parent and child is a perfect bedtime read. How To Catch A Star’s 10th anniversary book is a beautiful celebration of longing and perseverance told in Oliver Jeffer’s now-very-familiar style, the hardback makes an especially nice gift. Finally I am a huge fan of Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger’s Hubble Bubble books so am adding one of the picture books, although I recommend them all as well as the early readers. Pandora and Granny’s loving relationship is one to cherish.
Interactive and Learning
Who’s in the Tree that Shouldn’t Be? is a lovely lift-the flap, but also consolidates learning about where animals belong. The rhyming is very clever, and beautifully illustrated too. Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds is a search book wrapped round a story – not that I’ve read the story because the book gets grabbed off me every time while my girls try to find all the objects in the pictures! Some of them are quite hard, but that just makes this book all the more appealing. Paul Thurlby’s art is well loved, and every page in Numbers could easily be framed. One for all ages, this isn’t your average numbers book. New York in Pyjamarama makes still pictures move with its clever acetate sheet. No interactive book list should be without Herve Tullet. Press Here is a masterpiece and belongs in every home. I’ve not seen Mix It Up, but I expect it’s just as wonderful. Any Herve Tullet makes an excellent gift.
Highly Illustrated Early Readers
I wasn’t sure what to call this section, but it’s for the small books with mostly duo-tone illustrations that are great as both read alouds and early readers. I can’t choose between them, I recommend every book from these series: Claude, Dixie O’Day, Hubble Bubble; and rhyming series: Mortimer Keene, Squishy McFluff, Woozy the Wizard. And black and white but also highly illustrated: Jolley Rodgers, Ottoline. I’ve included one from each series in the links, but they are all a delight.
Disclosure: Affiliate links. Book sources include publishers, own copies, and library.
I write lots of lists of books we have already and recommend, but forget to write about the ones that we’ve chosen to give as gifts. As always, books feature heavily in my gift selections, and here’s what we’ve chosen so far:
My nine year old niece: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse; Goth Girl and the Fete worse than Death – we loved these books so hope she’ll enjoy them too.
My seven year old niece: The Snow Queen – this is a beautiful book, and I hope she enjoys it for her seventh birthday (also giving a puppet.) I’m not sure whether to add a book to her Christmas gift as well.
My four year old nephew: Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas – I’ve been giving him the Hugless Douglas books since his 1st birthday, his middle name is Douglas. Giving a dedicated and signed copy.
Eight-year old, friends’ son: Cakes in Space – I think he will love this as it’s such fun, it’s also dedicated and signed by Sarah McIntyre.
Five-year old, friends’ daughter: Jampires – I think she’ll enjoy the humour in this and parents will enjoy reading to her, also dedicated and signed by both authors.
Five year old, friends’ son: How To Catch A Star (10th anniversary edition) – a gorgeous gift book that I think the whole family will enjoy.
My five year old daughter: Slot-Together Castle; Playbook Castle; Princesses First Sticker Book – guess what Danger Girl loves?! As we have lots (and lots) of reading books, her Christmas gifts are books to play with. She chose them all.
My seven year old daughter: The River Singers; How to Make Awesome Comics; How to Write a Story – again as we have lots of reading books, the theme is books that help her creativity. The River Singers is a novel, but is special because it is dedicated and signed, as is How to Make Awesome Comics.
My mum: Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman – the latest in the series that she has all of, her request for this year (she doesn’t let me spend much on her!)
Me: Hansel and Gretel; The Imaginary – no one buys me books so I have to do it myself! These are just beautiful.
What books are you gifting this year, and are there any you hope to receive?
Although I’ve linked to Amazon (in the vague hope of making a few pennies), of the 16 books listed eight were bought from Mostly Books (well six, but I plan on getting my presents there too); four were from The Book People; one was from The Story Museum; and three were review copies (sorry!) Obviously I recommend your local indie first 🙂
I was feeling utterly despondent about not finishing this post on time, but the excellent Dom Conlon (inkology) made a genius suggestion:
TODAY ONLY! 75% off this blog post!
… and I still didn’t manage to get it posted on time.
I’m not sure how long Black Friday has been a ‘thing’ in the UK, or when it became a week, but it seems quite ubiquitous now. I am guilty of browsing through the Amazon deals, memorising times for things that look interesting, seeing if maybe we’ll get a ‘bargain’…
But is it really a bargain to pay £100 instead of £200 for something that you could get much cheaper without a particular label attached, and you (or gift recipient) didn’t really want or need it anyway…
So here is the 2014 Child-Led Chaos Christmas Gift Ideas List, the book edition:
Fairy Tales, Fables and Traditional Tales
It would be entirely possible for me to fill an entire website with fairy tales, fables, and traditional tales, as they are probably the Chaos household’s favourite genres. It’s almost impossible to pick just a few. But before we get to the twists-on-a-tale that we like, it’s essential to let children be aware of the traditional tales. The Ladybird Tales boxset is an excellent introduction, and the sturdy hardbacks withstand a lot of love.
Little Red Riding Hood – This is probably my five year old’s favourite story so we have a lot of versions. For young children you can’t go wrong with Child’s Play’s Flip-Up Fairy Tales (this goes for all their flip-up tales.) Alison Jay’s Little Red Riding Hood (Templar Books, 2013) is mostly traditional with lots to see and talk about in the illustrations. The Deep Dark Wood is a variation on the theme, with a little girl who can take care of herself and a wolf in for a very big surprise and Heapy & Heap’s Very Little Red Riding Hood will be very familiar to parents of toddlers. Moving up from the toddler/pre-schooler age-range, David Roberts’ Little Red turns Red into a little boy and Templar’s Pocket Fairytales gives a beautiful pop-up concertina book to love.
Cinderella – We love Alex T. Smith’s Ella, with a ladybird Ella and wasp sisters, beautifully illustrated and great for any bug fans (there is a lot of pink, but put colour prejudices aside for this one. Danger Girl (5) is a huge fan of The Fairytale Hairdresser so I couldn’t leave it out. Full of sparkles and royalty with jobs, these stories give sensible role models for young children. Moving on from toddler/pre-school, again we have the excellent David Roberts, this time with an art deco Cinderella. Shirley Hughes’ artwork in Ella’s Big Chance is also stunning.
Goldilocks – There is so much fun to be had with the theme of Goldilocks. Leigh Hodgkinson’s Goldilocks and Just the One Bear turns the tale on its head with the bear finding himself intruding, with an excellent denouement. Mo Willem’s humour is on top form in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, with layers to enjoy at all sorts of ages. Finally the Ahlberg family still produce innovative and delicious books to enjoy over an over.
Princesses – I can but hope that the success of Frozen will remove the pink from princess books, princesses do love a variety of colours – DG(5)’s favourite colour is now blue because of Frozen. She still utterly loves Ten Little Princesses, with their various escapades, one for empowering princesses everywhere. Princesses Are Not Just Pretty does what it says in the title. The three princesses do seem overly interested in looks, but when it comes to it they’ll happily help others no matter what. For lovely father-daughter relationships, Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton’s Princess books are delicious and huge favourites in the Chaos household. Finally, many parents will find the escapades of the princess in Princess Sleepyhead and the Night-Night Bear very familiar, and I just love that it promotes reading stories.
Dragons – Debi Gliori’s heartbreakingly beautiful tale of adoption, Dragon Loves Penguin, can be enjoyed on so many levels and Marmaduke’s differences show children that they don’t have to be like everyone else. I’d put those two books in any home (or school) library. Huge fun for pre-schoolers, Albie’s adventures have gone through Dinosaurs, Aliens, Pirates, and Caryl Hart & Ed Eaves are still on top form as Albie faces several fears, and promotes libraries in this latest adventure. Finally, for slightly older children, Cressida Cowell’s Incomplete Book of Dragons is stunning and makes a perfect gift for dragon lovers.
Fairies – This section is particularly pink, but don’t let that put you off. For pre-schoolers, Twinkle is an irritating fairy of the Mary-Sue variety, but I totally forgive the stories (and the pink) because of the gorgeous illustrations, including delicious endpapers to scour for hours – and glitter for children who love all things sparkly. For young readers, the ubiquitous Rainbow Magic. These books get a bad rap but the first seven tales with colour illustrations is the first book my (then) six year old read completely on her own. With two adventurous, problem solving female leads (who do not live in pink dresses) the Rainbow Fairies collection is an excellent gift, and paired with My Big Book of Fairies can ignite imaginations to create characters of their own.
More Fairy Tales – Oh, there’s just too many to choose from! Danger Girl has a soft spot for Jack and the Beanstalk, so I can’t leave out Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk (Rachel Mortimer and Liz Pichon have a series of fairy tales with a twist that we also love) or Shhh! the classic lift-the-flap toddler book where you sneak through the giant’s castle. Childs Play’s Secret Scrapbook Diaries cover all sorts of fairy tales. We have, and love, The Three Little Pigs, but I ought to add them all. The Lamb Who Came For Dinner isn’t a traditional tale, but it has all the elements and is a modern classic that we love. Finally, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without The Jolly Postman and his trips through fairyland.
These are just a selection of our favourites to give you some ideas of wonderful books to share with any children you know this Christmas, or any time of year.
To follow, probably, and eventually…
Monsters and Magic; Winter and Christmas; Animals and Pets; Friendship and People; Feelings and Situations; Around the World; Interactive and Learning
Disclosure: Affiliate links. Books chosen include ones received for review from publishers, as well as own copies, ones borrowed from libraries, and a couple browsed in bookshop and on our wishlist.
This post is filler to make a post every day, but don’t have to think of anything new to write because it’s all copied from Instagram.
It’s Monday. I’m bored of this happening all the time:
I’m continuing my impetuous streak by deciding to rearrange the entire living room. I have a plan. I have four hours.
Step One: Transfer mess into kitchen so have more floor space in living room
Step Two: Barricade yourself into room so you have no option but to continue
Step Three: Realise that wipes, a recycling bag & the vacuum cleaner might have been handy things to have in the room before you barricaded yourself in.
Add dusting and sorting the TV cabinet to list of future tasks.
Add a nice throw to hide plastic boxes from view to shopping list.
Step Four: Despair at making more mess in order to tidy mess.
Also despair at damp patch on wall that’s going to need sorting. Phone father in law.
Step Five: Realise that advance mental visualisation of steps missed some stages when the next thing on the list is to move that bookcase over there.
Step Six: Lie on floor and stare at empty bookcase for a while.
Especially as you know it has to be refilled before can finish tidying today, but it’s also going to need to be emptied and refilled again so it can be attached to the wall for safety.
Step Seven: Decide that not only can that bookcase stay where it is for now (the games shelves need to swap with it), but this bookcase is too dangerous to have all the books put back on.
90 minutes left. Eek.
Step Eight: Look at all the lovely crossed out steps on the plan.
Ignore the fact that the last line needs its own page of steps.
Email work & say you won’t be in this afternoon after all. Gain two extra hours.
Step Nine: Wonder if you have achieved anything in the last four hours at all.
Also realise that you’re going to have to move one of the storage cabinets back into the other half of the room as it looks too cluttered where you put it.
Step Ten: Ignore the messy bits that you know shouldn’t be there, and are only there because there’s a damp patch to be sorted and two bookcases to attach to the wall, and pretend that you’ve achieved something.
Step Eleven: Look at the corner that started it all off, and see no improvement.
Ignore it and take painkillers for your back.
Collect children from after-school club. Late.
I may have misquoted slightly, but I couldn’t resist. Jam goes in sandwiches, in porridge, on toast, in cakes, and in debates about whether strawberry or raspberry is best. Raspberry, obviously. And it can be mistaken for blood, which is what the following three books sort-of have in common.
Jampires: Sarah McIntyre & David O’Connell (David Fickling Books, 2014)
Jampires began life as a comic created by Sarah McIntyre and David O’Connell, where one drew a page and the other one followed until a story appeared. Encouraged by their publisher to transform the idea into a picture book, David and Sarah worked together to create Jampires. Sarah and David are both the author(s) and the illustrator(s) in this fabulous collaboration.
Sam is distressed to find his favourite treat dry and wrinkly, as if all the jam had been sucked out. Determined to catch the culprit, he sets a trap with ketchup filled doughnuts (yuck!), but ends up with more than he bargained with. Two small Jampires, a land of yummy treats that DG(5) wants to move to, and a deliciously sticky adventure.
The Jampires are far too cute to be scary, even with those fangs and red-smeared faces. You can find out more on the Jampires website, including the original comic and activities to download.
Bernard: Rob Jones (Beast In Show Books, 2014)
This is not only Rob Jones’ debut picture book, but the publisher’s debut too. Based on the quality of this, I expect Beast In Show Books, and Rob Jones, to have a rosy future ahead of them.
Bernard is the tale of a misunderstood wild dog. Poor Bernard, all alone on the moors with everyone afraid of him, and all he wants is your yummy tasty jam – eek, lock up your fridges!
Told in a minimal palette with strong lines and text taking a starring role, the bold style will appeal to even small children. Grown-ups, however, might find some of the images a little scary, especially one of the double spreads showing a close up of the hound’s mouth full of sharp pointed red-stained teeth and manic red pupils… Just hold your child’s hand and you’ll be fine.
Disclosure: Bernard received for review from Beast In Show Books.
The Wolves in the Walls: Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2003)
The slightly scary nature of Bernard, and his taste for jam, brought to mind the wolves from this classic Gaiman/McKean picture book. I reviewed The Wolves in the Walls a couple of years ago, and actually we haven’t read it this year so I’ve pulled it out to see what DG thinks of it now she’s five (MG doesn’t listen to stories at all any more, she prefers to read alone.) What this has in common with Bernard is that it’s a book that grown-ups will probably find more frightening than children will.
I think we forget that a book like Owl Babies is more terrifying to a small child than vampires or werewolves can ever be, or that children will just see jam as jam if that’s the context…
If you’re anywhere near Oxford in the next week, the Chaos family recommends you take a trip to central Oxford and find The Story Museum…
Twenty-six stars of children’s literature dressing up as their favourite characters and being photographed? It sounds wonderful for a lover of kidlit like me. But taking children to the exhibition? Wouldn’t they find it boring?
I had been imagining something like this:
But the 26 Characters exhibition is this:
… and this:
… and this:
… and so much more. I’ve spent over seven hours there now and I don’t think I’ve done a fraction of what you could do. I haven’t sat on the cushions and read, I haven’t listened to all the story extracts, I haven’t written a story…
But my two daughters have bounced on Max’s bed, made a pretend cushion bridge between two exhibits, dressed up, drawn pictures, spun the story wheel, played in Narnia*, and dragged me up and down and all around with excitement. I think they could easily visit again and again. So could I.
Your ticket lasts for the whole day, so it’s possible to do a quick tour in the morning to collect all the stamps for a sweetie treat (allow about an hour); have a lovely lunch in one of the many nearby options of central Oxford; then return for a leisurely few hours of play in the afternoon. Which is what we did. Twice.
26 Characters is open until 2nd November, when it closes for two weeks before re-opening in a slightly cut-back form until February. Details can be found on The Story Museum website, as can details of many more events.
* There is a wardrobe at the end of a corridor of Long John Silver’s pirate ship (where you’re welcome to swab the decks) and Boromir (with the Eye of Sauron looking out for you.) It looks like the end of the corridor. But open the wardrobe door, and there are fur coats hanging up, and if you push your way through… it’s breathtaking.
Author: Claire Freedman
Illustrator: Ben Cort
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rhyming text and colourful double-page pictures tell us about what monsters love more than being scary – can you guess what?!
This is such fun. Monsters, underpants, what’s not to like? The fact that DG(5) has put the three Underpants books we don’t own (yet!) on the top of her gift wish list might give you a hint as to how much she’s enjoying these at the moment. We also love spotting characters from the previous books in the backgrounds (aliens, the pirate’s golden underpants…)
Endpapers. No personal pronouns used, monsters could be male or female. Series familiarity, ‘in-jokes’ in illustrations. Familiar characters from series but book stands alone. Diversity in monster characters. Bright, cheerful illustrations.
The Underpants series – Claire Freedman & Ben Court (Simon & Schuster, various)
Pants – Giles Andreae & Nick Sharratt (Random House, 2002)
Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants – Giles Andreae & Korky Paul (Puffin Books, 2012)
Dirty Bertie – David Roberts (Little Tiger Press, 2002)
Aliens Love Underpants received for review from Simon & Schuster.