Published: 14 December 2018
Writing this year's Festive Freebies teaching sequences (available to download along with previous years' here) has got us thinking about the books we cherish - those that are fitting holiday season reads. Here are some of our Christmas crackers...
Christmas Eve Traditions - Becca
I love Christmas books, probably because you only get to read them once a year! My three favourites have become part of a Christmas Eve tradition with my own children (even though they are now 15 and 12!). At bedtime we read these to signal the start of Christmas proper. We always start with Father Christmas needs a Wee by Nicholas Allen (of The Queen’s Knickers fame).
This one is really silly but fun to read. It’s a rhyming and counting story of Father Christmas’s visits and all the things he gets to eat and drink. Unsurprisingly, he ends up really needing a wee!
Our next two reads are based on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem by Clement Clarke Moore: one traditional telling and one with a twist (A Creature was Stirring by Carter Goodrich). I love to read this aloud as it creates a real sense of excitement for what’s to come, but enough calm to help tired children feel sleepy. The version with a twist also adds in a big dollop of humour. There is the traditional poem on one page with a parallel story on the other. It brings the story alive, up to date and tells it from a little boy’s point of view as he watches and then becomes involved in the arrival of Santa and his reindeer.
Parks and Recreation - Alison
I have always looked forward to the month of December which brought with it the prospect of reading Christmas books, both to my class and my own children. As I looked through the collection of books accumulated over the years to choose a favourite story for this blog, the memories came flooding back. Now that I am no longer working in the classroom and my own children are 23 and 24, I read far fewer Christmas texts so having the excuse to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon revisiting old favourites was a rare treat. How evocative they all were and what an impossible job to choose a favourite: I love them all for different reasons.
Though not really a Christmas book, I absolutely love One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth. Percy the Park Keeper invites all the animals into his hut when they arrive on his doorstep, one by one, on a bitterly cold, snowy, winter night. The squirrel’s tail tickles his nose in bed and the hut becomes rather overcrowded and uncomfortable. Eventually a mole emerges from beneath the floorboards to find a warm spot to sleep, all the other animals are scared by the noises his arrival makes and scamper off to hide away in cosy spots which become ideal beds for the night.
During my first year of teaching with a reception class I used this text as our ‘topic’ for the whole of the second half of the autumn term. Times were different then and I was able to base the whole curriculum on the story, reading, writing, maths, art, science…everything! I vividly remember the life size display of Percy’s bed we all made!
The Nutcracker, A Magical Pop up Adventure by Nick Denchfield and Sue Scullard is another favourite. My daughter, a keen dancer, loved to hear the story of the ballet and the pop ups and illustrations are just beautiful - there’s even a pirouetting ballerina! Perhaps this year we will go and see the Disney version!
Pop-ups and Poetry - Jenny
Christmas stories are a firm tradition in my family. My son and I both delight in ever more intricate pop-up or lift-the-flap books but the magic of poetry always provides the perfect end to the day. Here are a few of our favourites...
For those of you who love Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary and Slinky Malinki, Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers is perfect. As usual, things get rather out of hand for this mischievous cat and the family end up with a rather unusual Christmas tree fairy. The rhyming verse carries the story along at a pace and is almost impossible not to memorise.
Combining pop-up with poetry is another old favourite, The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg, with the usual mix of fairy tale characters sending Christmas messages to each other. The magical scene of Santa’s workshop and the wonderful unfolding Christmas card at the end are parts we linger over every year.
My absolute favourite though has to be the beautiful lyrical story by Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It combines humorous memories of his Christmases with language of incredible musicality and reading this aloud to older KS2 children is a perfect introduction to one of our classic poets.
Picture Books - Becky
I often choose books for their illustrations and have a number of favoured artists. The Polar Express is perhaps better known as a film, but this was inspired by Chris Van Allsburg’s wonderful book, published much earlier. The images are somewhat dark and grainy, which I love – shadows and faint starlight play about the pages. One I particularly like stretches out to show a scene of wolves in a snowy night-time forest, watching the train rush by. The story is magical and ends full of hope – despite having grown older, the once-little boy still believes in Santa and has a very special keepsake to remind him forever of his fantastic Christmas adventure one incredible winter’s night.
Chris Wormell (here more formally appearing as Christopher) is another of my favourite illustrators. Through the Animals’ Eyes: A Story of the First Christmas succinctly tells of a baby born in Bethlehem. The text is traditional, and sparse; the illustrations are wonderful – rich lino cuts of Middle Eastern scenes. At the back of the book we find facts about the animals pictured, both exotic and more familiar: the Asiatic Donkey, Barn Owl, Black Stork, Canaan Dog, Spider, Arabian Oryx, Sheep, Syrian Brown Bear, Egyptian Mau…
I’ve only just come across my third choice: Richard Johnson’s Once Upon a Snowstorm. Wordless, this picture book tells the story of a little boy who goes out hunting with his father for desperately needed food. A blizzard separates them and as the child curls up under the stars, the woodland animals come out to investigate. He has great fun with them – sharing his mint humbugs with a bear and painting forest scenes. When it’s eventually time to go, the bear carries the boy back to his father who is preparing to shoot at such a wild creature. He doesn’t, and they really do all seem to live happily ever after. The illustrations are more whimsical and ‘cute’ than I would usually go for, but the snowy forest scenes are beautifully delicate and soft, and this book totally won me over.
Take a look at some of the illustrations here.
If you like our free Christmassy offerings on Shirley Hughes' Snow in the Garden and Michael Morpurgo's The Snowman, you'll probably love our other teaching sequences, available to purchase individually or as whole-phase sets from our digital shop as well as part of our No Nonsense Literacy publication from Raintree. Take a look at our Texts That Teach lists for an idea of the range and variety.