Advent Reading Challenge: Little Grey Rabbit

19th December

Squirrel Goes Skating written by Alison Uttley and illustrated by Margaret Tempest (William Collins 1986, 1988). This is an abridged edition of the original story published in 1934.

Squirrel Goes Skating

Skating Fun…

Again, during this reading challenge, I am indulging in an old family favourite, revisiting Little Grey Rabbit, Squirrel, Hare, and their countryside friends. In this snowy story, the animals gather to go skating on the pond at Tom Tiddler’s Way. The entire neighbourhood takes skates and food and sets off to have a day of fun on the ice:

Everything was frozen. Even the brook, which ran past little Grey Rabbit’s house on the edge of the wood, was thick with ice. Each blade of grass had a white fringe, and the black, leafless trees were patterned with shining crystals.
On every window of the house were Jack Frost’s pictures – trees and ferns and flowers in silver.

At last they reached the pond, which lay in the centre of a small field. Already many animals were on the ice, and the air was filled with merry cries. The newcomers sat down and put on their skates. Grey Rabbit placed her basket of food in the care of Mrs Hedgehog, who sat on a log, watching her son, Fuzzypeg.
Soon they were laughing and shouting with the others, as they skimmed over the ice.
Hare tried to do the outside edge, and got mixed up with the skates of a white duck. He fell down with a thump and bruised his forehead.

After Grey Rabbit, Squirrel and Hare had enjoyed a picnic with their friends Water-rat, Moldy Warp, Mrs Hedgehog and Fuzzypeg:

They all returned to the ice and skated until the red sun set behind the hills. Dark shadows spread across the fields as the animals removed their skates and set off home.
“It has been a jolly day,” said Grey Rabbit to Water-rat and Moldy warp. “Good-bye. Perhaps we will come again tomorrow.”
“Goodnight. Goodnight,” resounded round the pond.

I cannot claim this to be a Christmas piece exactly but it fulfils our nostalgic longing for those snowy winters where we can play for a while and then go and snuggle at home afterwards. We can enjoy the thought of snow without actually getting our feet wet and cold! Alison Uttley used her own country childhood experiences in her stories so I am sure that she once went skating on her local pond (though possibly not with hares and ducks).

Until tomorrow…

Advent Reading Challenge: Seven Stars

18th December

‘Christmas Shopping’ taken from Mary Poppins written by P.L. Travers and illustrated by Mary Shepard (Collins 1958, 1998). First published by Peter Davies Ltd 1934.

Mary Poppins

Practically Perfect…

As we head into the last full week before Christmas I am conscious of just how many festive poems and stories that I will not have room to put up on the Landing Advent Calendar. Nevertheless I am pleased that I have managed to include so many of our old family favourites along the way. Perhaps I will have to do it all again next year.

Today is the turn of everyone’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins who was at various times the mainstay of the Banks’ household. In the Christmas shopping episode Mary Poppins has taken Michael and Jane into town. There they have a magical encounter with one of the Seven Sisters who has come to earth in human form to do a spot of seasonal shopping:

“Now you recognise me, don’t you? I’m the second of the Pleiades. Electra – she’s the eldest – couldn’t come because she’s minding Merope. Merope’s the baby, and the other five of us come in between – all girls. Our Mother was very disappointed at first not to have a boy, but now she doesn’t mind.”

“But what are you doing here?” demanded Michael, still very surprised.
Maia laughed. “Ask Mary Poppins. I am sure she knows.”
“Tell us, Mary Poppins,” said Jane.
“Well,” said Mary Poppins snappily, “I suppose you two aren’t the only ones in the world that want to go shopping at Christmas-“
“That’s it,” squealed Maia delightedly. “She’s quite right. I’ve come down to buy toys for them all. We can’t get away very often, you know, because we’re so busy making and storing up the Spring Rains…”

Maia has a lovely time choosing gifts for her sisters: A stove with silver saucepans for Electra; a skipping rope for Taygete; Alcyone gets The Swiss Family Robinson; Celaeno has a hoop; there is a spinning top for Sterope and a rubber duck for Merope.

If you want to know how an astral body pays for her shopping, or indeed what she receives for Christmas then look out for this Mary Poppins story. As is usual in any adventure with their mysterious nanny, the children are not sure whether they really saw what they thought they saw, or simply had a wonderful dream. And as Mary Poppins’ readers will know, she never tells anybody anything…

(The image of the Pleiades was sourced from Wikipedia)

The Pleiades

The Pleiades

 

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: 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

Latke

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: 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: 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!

Advent Reading Challenge: three ships

6th December

I Saw Three Ships (Anonymous)

line drawing of three ships

I saw three ships

This poem (which has also been set to music as a carol) features in a collection entitled Read Me: A Poem For Every Day Of The Year (10th anniversary edition) chosen by Gaby Morgan. This is a wide-ranging collection of poems guaranteed to encourage children’s enthusiasm for verse.

Here is the first verse of this old poem and as a festive treat I have also added below a clip of a recording of the carol by Blackmore’s Night (taken from Winter Carols)

Opinion differs on what the three ships represent: the Holy Trinity, Mary, Joseph and Jesus or the three wise men.

I saw three ships come sailing in,

Come sailing in, come sailing in,

I saw three ships come sailing in,

On Christmas Day in the morning.

Regular readers may recall from the interview with Paul Anthony Shortt that a song by Blackmore’s Night was an inspiration behind his novel Locked In. Thanks to Paul’s answers I have now discovered some new music!

Credits: clip uploaded to YouTube by Adiabatka on 08/06/2008 (with thanks)

illustration: Chris Mills

Advent Reading Challenge: Mincemeat

4th December

Mincemeat, a poem by Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould’s poem is another extract from The Book of Christmas, edited by Fiona Waters, mentioned on the 2nd December and again it is about a traditional edible element of Christmas. Having said that, as consumers are only too aware it is perfectly possible to buy mince pies all the year round. I still persist in the notion that mince pies taste much nicer in December, when they are supposed (by any right minded person) to be eaten. It is also perfectly true that a mince pie is an ideal snack to leave out for Father Christmas on his big night out.

Here are a few lines to tempt your tastebuds:

Mince meat and Pie

Sugar and Spice…

Sing a song of mincemeat,

Currants, raisins, spice,

Apples, sugar, nutmeg,

Pack it all away

Tied in little jars and pots,

Until Christmas Day. 

Sounds delicious…

What is your favourite festive fayre? Are you a mince pie fan?

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas