Children’s books for Christmas

Children’s books for Christmas

This week we present a selection of books available this Christmas time for smaller children and young adults. 

Younger children

The President’s Glasses
Peter Donnelly
Gill Books, €14.99

This must be the delight of the season for both children and parents. It presents the president as slightly forgetful – well it comes to us all. But the discovery that he has to sign important documents at Dublin Castle and his glasses are at home in the Park leaving him needing to be saved by his reliable pigeon friend.

A lot of fun with Dublin life follows before the day is saved. A delightful pigeon-flight of fancy. For adults a hint that he has now become a figure of national folklore, His Excellency is a coo-in for another term.

Sam the Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the World
by Mo Willems
Walker Books £7.99

Latest from the well-established artist and animator. The notion of scaring one’s self witless when it’s really one’s best friend that one sees in an unusual light, struck a chord of recognition (at least with this reviewer – how well I recall me and my best friend next door scaring each other by each imitating Michael Landon in that notorious werewolf film when we were ten).

But this is a book for young readers. It gives quite the same agreeable thrill, yet has a happy outcome. Essential moral of the tale? There is no need to be scared of anything.

The Wonderling
by Mira Bartók
Walker Books, £14.99

This is an enchanting book for the same age that enjoys say The Wind in the Willows, a sort of Christmas Carol crossed with a touch of Hard Times.

She herself admits to the influence of Black Beauty and The Call of the Wild. This mixture of Victoriana and almost human animals is the author’s first book, and her readers will look forward to many more at Christmases to come.

Ms Bartok, who lives in America, says: “At first I drew Arthur, the hero of my story, as a one-eared rabbit, but he eventually turned into a fox. I especially love foxes because my dog looks like a little black fox. But most importantly, I wanted Arthur to possess a secret musical gift and to have a kind and innocent heart, like the beloved pig in the story Babe.”

Thanks to a large dose of good luck a film is already on the way. Expect to hear much, much more about the character and the author.


Older children

Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary
by Martha Brokenbrough

With the extraordinary musical, a major success on Broadway, due to open in London before Christmas, and to follow here in due course, this book is aimed at an older young readership (12 up according to the publishers).

It was the up-to-date music styles of the show that made it popular, giving to the audience a contemporary human edge. This book aims to fill out the history and the social and political backgrounds. With strange things happening these days to the American presidency, it does no harm for maturing citizens still at school to learn something about the realities of the American Revolution, to which our own revolution owed so much.

Hamilton, in many ways, was the most influential man in creating the society and institution of modern America. He wrote 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers, which, to this day, are the single most important source for thinking about the Constitution. The serious matter of nation making, which is what our decade of commemoration is supposed to explore, is seen here in a new light.

[Grown up readers might like to know that the musical and this book draw heavily on Ron Chernow’s 2004 Hamilton (Head of Zeus, £15.00 pb).]

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions
by David Attenborough
Hodder & Stoughton, 25.00

What a delight David Attenborough was at the beginning of his career. I have to confess that I still have the original books on my shelves, and from time still enjoy dipping into them. Today with Blue Planet, Sir David’s programmes depend on a multitude of contributors around the world and are in full colour. But back in the early 1950s it was just the man himself and his cameraman Charles Lagus, two against the wilderness.

The programmes were shot in monochrome 16mm film, the sound recorded by Attenborough. And they were as much about people and the rapidly disappearing tribal cultures of the world as about animals.

Here are those books but with a plethora of colour pictures for a new generation. Sir David would encourage anyone to become a naturalist and environmentalist.

But one still hankers after the original simplicity, innocence and simplicity that has fled from both the world and from television.


…and a bit of seasonal religion

Though Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, many people would hesitate before giving a book with a religious theme to their children. But when you give it a thought, this is a baseless fear.

Religion is not just for Sundays, as they say.

So here a few suggestions for those really seasonal books…

The Children’s Illustrated Bible: The Most Famous and Treasured Passages from the Old and New Testaments
by Victoria Parker and Janet Dyson
Armadillo Books, £20.00

For Christians, Jews and Muslims the Bible, or at least the Old Testament, is a foundation document. One cannot begin to early to learn about it, the people who created it and the beliefs based on it at too early an age.

This attractively illustrated Bible might be a good beginning. The material also comes in the form of an Old Testament and New Testament volumes, for those who would prefer that approach.

The essential stories of the Bible are simply told and brought to life for the imaginations of the young by more than 1,500 classic illustrations from over the centuries.

Every home should have some kind of Bible, for the children of Western cultures cannot be truly educated without some knowledge of what it says. Muslims, Jews and Christians of all kinds should emphasise what they share in religion, not what seems to divide them (but which with proper understanding might not do so).

Pope Francis Selected Prayers
Veritas €4.99

The present Pope is a prayerful man, and this book brings together a selection of the prayers Pope Francis has issued since coming to office suitable for all occasions. Prayer, according to Pope Francis, does not work “like a magic wand” but instead helps “us to keep faith in God, and to entrust ourselves to him even when we do not understand his will”.

They highlight his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also his sincere engagement with issues such as peace, the environment, and especially the modern family.

Young people cannot pray without some guidance and the words and thoughts of Pope Francis are a good way to begin.

Gold Collection
by Brian Darcy
Columba Press, €16.99

This might seem to be a book for adults, but the present practise of treating young adults as “children” for too long does not seem to do much to promote mature Christians or informed citizens.

This collection of Fr Darcy’s writing, aimed as always as the widest possible audience, is exactly the sort of book that people in their late teens should be reading, for the improvement of the their minds, the good of their souls, and the benefit of society.

An encounter with the way Fr Darcy sees the world will be a maturing experience that should be encouraged. And in any case he is an entertaining writer.


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