Advent Reading Challenge: Mrs Pepperpot

17th December

Mrs Pepperpot’s Christmas  taken from Mrs Pepperpot’s Year  written by Alf Prøysen (1914-1970) and illustrated by Björn Berg (translated by Marianne Helweg). Published by Puffin Books 1981 (Hutchinson 1973).

Mrs Pepperpot's Year

Size is no barrier for Mrs Pepperpot!


As I am sure many of you know, Mrs Pepperpot is the woman from Norway who has the tendency to shrink to the size of a pepperpot at very inconvenient moments. In this story, true to form, she shrank just when she was planning to go Christmas shopping:

‘She wanted to buy a sheaf of corn for the birds’ dinner, and she wanted to get them a little bird-house where she could fee them every day. The other thing she wanted was a wreath of mistletoe to hang over the door, so that she could wish Mr Pepperpot a “Happy Christmas” with a kiss. But Mr Pepperpot thought this was a silly idea.

“Quite unnecessary!” he said.’

So of course Mrs Pepperpot had to find a way to make her husband buy exactly what she wanted at the market. To that end she hid in his knapsack as he headed out of the house.

‘At one stall stood a farmer selling beautiful golden sheaves of corn. As her husband walked past the stall Mrs Pepperpot climbed out from the knapsack pocket and disappeared inside the biggest sheaf of all.

“Hullo, Mr Pepperpot,” said the farmer, “how about some corn for the birds this Christmas?”

“Too dear!” answered Mr Pepperpot gruffly.

“Oh no, it’s not!” squeaked the little voice of Mrs Pepperpot.

“If you don’t buy this sheaf of corn I’ll tell everyone you’re married to the woman who shrinks”.’

Of course the poor man had no choice but to buy the best sheaf of corn. By the time Mrs Pepperpot had finished, her husband had bought a fine bird house and even a mistletoe wreath. After an adventure with a red balloon, Mrs Pepperpot returned home and grew back to her normal size.

Mrs Pepperpot's Christmas

Picture book edition

I enjoyed the Mrs Pepperpot tales when I was a child and so it is nice to see that she is going strong, with several stories still in print. Though I must admit that all of our editions are rather battered second-hand copies from the 1970s and 80s. But no less loved for all that…


Advent Reading Challenge: Three Kings

16th December

Three Kings Came Riding by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) another poem taken from The Book of Christmas

This is a long poem of fourteen verses telling the story of the journey of the Three Kings (Wise Men or Magi) to find the new saviour. I have known the poem since my own childhood and well remember the sense of romance about these mysterious figures making such a long journey. I also recall being absolutely baffled as to what frankincense and myrrh actually were.

I have just picked three verses to give a potted version of the story. The men set out following the star:

The Magi Journeying

The Magi Journeying (Les Rois Mages en Voyages)

1) Three Kings came riding from far away,

Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;

Three Wise Men out of the East were they,

And they travelled by night and they slept by day,

For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

Along the way the travellers talk to people they meet of the child, and so Herod the Great hears.

He asks the Wise Men to bring him news from Bethlehem:

8) So they rode away; and the star stood still,

The only one in the grey of the morn;

Yes, it stopped it stood still of its own free will,

Right over Bethlehem on the hill,

The city of David where Christ was born.

The Three Kings found their way to the baby’s birth place and gave their gifts:

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas

12) They laid their offerings at his feet;

The gold was their tribute to a King,

The frankincense, with its odour sweet,

Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,

The myrrh for the body’s burying.

After worshiping the new child, the Three Kings rode away and headed back to their homes in the East. They were wise enough not to return to King Herod, but travelled home a different way.

The painting here is by James Tissot which is in the Brooklyn Museum (image taken from Wikipedia).

Advent Reading Challenge: Baubles

15th December

Bauble Blues by James Carter (taken from Read me and Laugh: A Funy Poem For Every Day Of The Year, chosen by Gaby Morgan),  Macmillan, 2005. This poem was originally published in Cars, Stars and Electric Guitars by James Carter, 2002.

This is another great collection of verse for children, and though you do not of course have to read the poems on their appointed day, the structure does encourage incorporating poetry into daily life. The verses vary in length and are from poets old and new covering a range of topics. I had a trawl through December and found this one and another which will appear on the blog next week.

As this is a concrete poem I have reproduced it in its entirety alongside the typed version:

oohhh! it’s not much fun as a Christmas decoration –

Bauble Blues concrete poem

Concrete thoughts…


I only work one month a year and then for the other

eleven months I’m stuffed into a box next to old goody-

two-shoes the fairy – what a life, eh?!

I had never thought of Christmas decorations having sad lives before reading this short poem, now I wonder whether I should simply keep them up all year round. It is also probably just as well that we have a star and not a fairy for the top of our tree.

Read Me and Laugh

Funny poems galore


Advent Reading Challenge: Pancake Panic

14th December

The Latke who couldn’t stop screaming: a Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Lisa Brown (McSweeny’s Books, 2007)

This is a Christmas book with a difference as it tells the story of a frying Hanukah latke who escaped screaming from the pan. Here is


A Screaming Latke

the blurb to give you a flavour (pun intended) of this seasonal tale told in Snicket’s inimitable style:

‘Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukah. Lemony Snicket is an alleged children’s author. For the first time in history, these two elements are combined in one book. People who are interested in either one or both of these things will find this book so enjoyable it will feel as if Hanukah is being celebrated for several years, rather than eight nights.’

The story opens as the potato pancake runs away screaming thus: “AAAHHHHHHHH!!!”
‘This may seem like unusual behaviour for a potato pancake, but this is a Christmas story, in which things tend to happen that would never occur in real life.’ 

On his flight through town (still screaming), the latke meets a row of coloured lights, a candy stick and a pine tree who all try to convince him that he is really as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus:

‘“Santa Claus has nothing to do with it,” the latke said. “Christmas and Hanukah are completely different things.”
“But different things can often blend together,” said the pine tree. “Let me tell you a funny story about pagan rituals.”
But before the pine tree could begin its story, a family came tramping through the snow, searching the forest carefully.’

You may be able to guess how this story ends, all things considered…

Advent Reading Challenge: Partridges and Pears

13th December

Twelve Days of Christmas (Correspondence) by John Julius Norwich (illustrated by Quentin Blake) Atlantic Books 2010. First published by Doubleday in 1998.

These are not quite the Twelve days of Christmas that you might recall from long ago. We have here an old rhyme with a new twist from John Julius Norwich, which has been brilliantly interpreted by Quentin Blake’s drawings. There is indeed a partridge, pear tree, hens, geese, swans and so on but these days a girl (Emily) is not so impressed by such gifts from her swain (Edward). Emily’s mother and the neighbours are generally not too keen either (noise and mess being a prime consideration).

Here are a couple of extracts from Emily’s letters, written in response to an increasingly strange tally of Christmas gifts. It all begins promisingly enough:

25th December

My dearest darling – That partridge, in that

Twelve Days of Christmas

Another twelve days…


lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting,

romantic, poetic present! Bless you and thank you.

Your deeply loving Emily

But Emily’s mood gradually change as more and more birds appear

(the five gold rings offering only a brief hiatus from the feathery flow):

30th December

Dear Edward – Whatever  I expected to find

when I opened the front door this morning,

it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying

eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I rather hoped

you had stopped sending me birds – we have no

room for them and they have already ruined

the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but –

Let’s call a halt, shall we?

Love, Emily              

As usual, I shall not a breathe a word about the ending. I shall merely suggest that Edward’s example in the are of gift purchasing is not one to be followed with impunity.

Advent Reading Challenge: Another Bear

December 12th

Albert’s Christmas written by Alison Jezard and illustrated by Margaret Gordon, Puffin Books, 1978, 1986. First published by Victor Gollancz in 1970.

Albert the Bear’s first appearance was in 1968 and the original Gollancz editions seem now to be quite collectible (I spotted a first

Albert's Christmas

Albert admiring his tree

edition offered for fifty pounds). Sadly, the Albert books now appear to be out of print. This friendly teddy bear lives in a cosy basement flat in Spoonbasher’s Row in the East End of London.

Albert’s Christmas adventures begin when he starts work as a seasonal postman to earn some extra money. The following extract is taken from chapter three, when Albert goes to do his Christmas shopping in a big department store:

‘Children were everywhere and their voices were full of excitement as they chose the things they wanted most.

Suddenly a little boy near to Albert pointed to him and said, “Please , Mummy, could I have that for Christmas? It’s the most beautiful Teddy Bear I have ever seen.” Albert turned around. ‘”I  beg your pardon, ” he said. The  little boy’s mouth fell open and he turned bright pink. “Oh, excuse me,” he said, “I thought – I mean -“

Albert raised his cap politely and said, “My name’s Albert and I’m afraid I’m not for sale.”‘

Fortunately Albert is not a teddy bear to take offence and he soon makes friends with the boy (Ian) and his mother. He is even invited to spend Christmas Day with the family. What with that, mistletoe gathering and playing the part of Father Christmas at a children’s party, Albert Bear has his best Christmas ever.

Albert should be the last bear to make an appearance….but you never can tell with bears…

Advent Reading Challenge: Wendy Cope

December 11th

The Christmas Life by Wendy Cope (taken from The Book of Christmas edited by Fiona Waters and mentioned in a previous post). This poem was previously published in If I Don’t Know (Faber).

I have been a fan of Wendy Cope’s verse for a long time, since someone gave me a present of Serious Concerns (Faber) when I worked in a Birmingham bookshop in the 1990s.

This festive poem celebrates the zest and spirit of Christmas: the living greenery brought inside the house with its hint of spring to come; bright colours on the tree; memories both happy and sad and the hopefulness of a new beginning for all of us.

Here are the first and last verses:

Decorated Christmas Tree

All Kinds of Everything…


Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,

Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold,

Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold,

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,

Bring in the stillness of an icy night,

Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light,

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

I hope that you are enjoying these Advent snippets of poetry and prose both old and fairly new. It has proved to be an enjoyable writing and reading challenge for me and I am re-discovering many old favourites along the way.

(photo: Chris Mills)

Until tomorrow…

Advent Reading Challenge: Another Bear

December 10th

‘Christmas’ from More About Paddington by Michael Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum (taken from The Adventures of Paddington, Collins, 1965, 1970).

Paddington's Christmas Pudding

Paddington with his pudding

When I first decided to tackle my Advent Reading Challenge I knew that Paddington would have to appear in it somewhere. That I have waited until the tenth day demonstrates either a great deal of will power or a highly developed sense of the power of delayed gratification.

Even now, many years after first discovering the small, determined bear from Darkest Peru, I can still find myself giggling at his many mishaps and misunderstandings. Peggy Fortnum’s wonderful drawings of the engaging Paddington also never fail to raise a smile. The copy that I have mentioned above came from a book sale in Birmingham and once upon a time belonged to the Bluecoat School, Harborne, Birmingham.

But, without further ado here is a taster of Christmas with Paddington and the Browns at number 32 Windsor Gardens:

‘Paddington found that Christmas took a long time to come. Each morning when he hurried downstairs he crossed the date off the calendar, but the more days he crossed off the farther away it seemed.’

Preparations for the festivities went on relatively smoothly except for an unfortunate incident with drawing pins and paper chains which ended with ‘Paddington hanging by his paws from the chandelier and Mr Brown dancing round the room rubbing his head’.

After an excellent Christmas dinner there was consternation all round when it appeared that Paddington had swallowed the sixpence in the pudding:

‘ ” Quick,” shouted Mr Brown, rising to the emergency. “Turn him upside down”.

Before Paddington could reply, he found himself hanging head downwards while Mr Brown and Mr Gruber took it in turns to shake him. The rest of the family stood round watching the floor.

“It’s no good,” said Mr Brown, after a while. “It must have gone too far”. He helped Mr Gruber lift Paddington into an armchair where he lay gasping for breath.’

If you want to know how it all ends you will have to read the whole story for yourself. Fortunately there is no danger of Paddington ever going out of print!

Illustration: by Peggy Fortnum taken from above edition.

Advent Reading Challenge: Pennies and Hats

December 9th

Christmas is Coming – a traditional Yuletide nursery rhyme (Anonymous). This is another verse taken from the children’s collection Read Me that I mentioned previously on the Advent Calendar.

As with many old rhymes, there are several different versions. Some say ‘goose‘ instead of ‘geese’ and some have ‘Please do put’ in place of ‘Please to put’ and so on. I did a YouTube trawl and, not surprisingly many singers have recorded Christmas is Coming in its several versions (including one by John Denver and The Muppets). The clip I have posted below is not a sung rendering of the verse, but a straightforward spoken one by someone whose name is only given as Andy.

I hope it makes you feel all Christmassy inside!

Christmas is coming,

Read Me

Do exactly as it says on the label…

  The geese are getting fat,

Please to put a penny

  In the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny,

  A ha’penny will do;

If you haven’t got a ha’penny,

  Then God bless you!

I hope you were joining in at the back there…

Many thanks to Andy who uploaded this video to YouTube exactly two years ago, on 9th December 2010.

Advent Reading Challenge: A Tiny Bear

8th December

Tiny Bear’s Christmas by Ebi N (Eberhard Naumann) Ragged Bears Ltd, 1991
Published originally as Pules Weihnachtsfest

This charming book found its way into our Christmas collection some years ago via a second-hand shop. It has obviously had some enthusiastic handling as the marks on the cover of our copy testify. We have read it over and over again and I am sure its previous owners did too.

This is the text of the frontispiece:

Tiny Bear's Christmas

Tiny Bear and his Christmas tree

‘Poor Tiny Bear is left behind when the family leaves for the holiday. But Christmas is the time for miracles, and a small one can bring joy into the life of a tiny bear.

This whimsical story of naive charm and innocence brings the spirit of the season to readers young and old.’

The book is something of a curiosity as I have only ever come across this copy while browsing bookshops. It seems to be out of print now and when I did a book search before writing this piece only found a single copy available from Amazon. Either it was a very short print run or people tend to hang onto their copies.

If anything should be a candidate for a re-print then this seasonal tale of a teddy bear left all alone by his owners at Christmas must be a front-runner. After the family heads off for the Christmas holidays, Tiny Bear feels very sad and lonely. He tries all sorts of things to cheer himself up:

‘But no matter what he did, he was all alone on Christmas. Tiny Bear cried a little. Then he mopped a little. And then he lay down on his bed to think’.

Not to spoil the story for anyone unfamiliar with the book, I will merely mention that Tiny Bear finds some unusual friends and all ends happily in a very sociable Christmas celebration.

According to a note at the back of the book, the story was originally written by Eberhard Naumann (and I presume also illustrated by him) as a story for his young son. The tale was later discovered and published as a surprise for the author, whose birthday just happens to be on Christmas Day.

If you ever manage to spot a copy of Tiny Bear’s Christmas anywhere, snap it up quickly!