Your first choice is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.
And yet you don’t feature in the book, only in the film. Could you tell me why you have chosen this beautifully illustrated wordless book, filled with the joy and the excitement of Christmas but permeated with the boy’s sense of loss and the slight bleakness of England in winter, especially in the 1950s when these illustrations look set.
I like the pictures.
They are gentle, fuzzy-edged and sad, almost luminous.
If you say so.
Right. On to your next book. A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux.
This is almost a ghost story, isn’t it? A family lost in the snowy darkness on treacherous roads in rural America, drawn in by the light of a house and shown the way home by a magical Christmas card given them by a ghostly man.
Can you tell me why you chose this one?
Yet the magic in the book is good magic. You can feel the children’s fear and excitement, the fallibility of the irritable parents and the children’s hope for a happy Christmas. The card lightens and darkens with day and night and guides the family through the weather to roaring fires and glimmering Christmas trees, to an idealised home.
That it does.
OK. You’ve chosen Eloise at Christmastime next, the 1950s classic illustrated book about the little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York with her nanny.
And what is it about the charismatic but naughty Eloise, obviously abandoned by her glamorous mother but funny, charming and uncomplaining nonetheless, that particularly draws you in?
Yes, Hilary Knight’s illustrations make you look very handsome in Eloise’s lavish dream.
And….er….well, the hotel plans and the chaos Eloise always wreaks is wonderfully drawn. Of course, it’s great that Eloise herself is shabby and scruffy with wild hair and a cheeky look – not a perfect doll like many cartoon girls… And her pet pug and turtle are always amusing…
As you say.
So, shall we move on?
The animals want feeding.
Speaking of animals, you have chosen The Lion, The Unicorn and Me: The Donkey’s Christmas Story as your next book. It’s by Jeanette Winterson and Rosalind MacCurrach.
They’ve done a grand job.
What exactly did you like about this magical story of the donkey, chosen by an angel to bear Mary to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve?
The donkey’s gold nose at the end.
Yes, that’s a beautiful picture. And the competition is funny with the lion, unicorn and donkey all competing for the job and listing their accomplishments to the angel who takes note. The lion says: ‘Present position: King of the Jungle. Weaknesses: None reported.’
Somehow Jeanette Winterson telling the story from the donkey’s point of view, makes the Nativity story seem real, with all the smells from the stable and Joseph’s optimism that they’ll find a room.
I like the donkey’s gold nose.
You said. So… your last book and I’ll let you get on. Father Christmas Goes on Holiday by Raymond Briggs.
This is a grand little book this. I’m just like that, I am. I don’t know how that Briggs character got a good look at me but a look he’s had and that’s a fact. He’s even drawn the house right, the reindeer, the dog. Sneaking around, he must have been. Shown me going off to France buying that long bread, doing my level best to fit in with a striped jersey like they wear on the telly. But the food! Thought I was going to die after all that cream. And then off to Scotland in the freezing bloomin’ cold, half froze to death as if it’s not cold enough at home. And then Las Vegas! That were grand. Lovely ladies, warm water to swim in, drinks by the pool. But it’s always good to get home by myself in the cold, opening the letters after a blooming good holiday!
You must be looking forward to it already.
I am that.
Could you give us a quick ho ho ho?
HO HO HO!
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Father Christmas is a mythical figure who delivers presents to good children on Christmas Eve. Also known as Santa Claus and St Nikolaus.
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