Thursday, 21 December 2017

Do We Need To 'Make' Christmas Magical?

I'm feeling a bit guilty at the moment. I keep seeing families taking their children on all sorts of fancy Christmas experiences, that they've booked well in advance ... and what have I done with my kids? Taken them to the local lights switch on at the end of November and the local lantern parade last weekend. That's it. Apart from a quick trip to the German Market in Leeds we have no other plans.

We had talked about doing something more this year, but we just didn't get anything organised. And it's not just lack of organisation - finding something that fits around school and weekend clubs, that's suitable for both kids, and that won't be too busy and overwhelming for Girl Child (who can be quite sensitive to new experiences and busy environments) has been nigh-on impossible. And there's always the risk of forking out and travelling miles for an experience that one or all of us will hate.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

But then part of me thinks, how necessary are these experiences anyway? My best Christmas memories are of singing around the village Christmas tree, going to the school fair and so on. I don't know if these big Christmas events just didn't exist thirty years ago or whether it just wasn't practical for us to go, but I certainly don't feel like I missed out. I remember feeling that Christmas was magical without going on any day trips.

It's not just the events. Social media is awash with elves on shelves, recommendations for where to get a personalised letter from Santa and Christmas Eve box 'must-haves'. Again, if you want to do these things and you're happy to put in the effort and/or money then great! But it does feel like there is an element of pressure, especially as children hear their friends talking and come home wanting to do the same things. And again, none of these things existed when I was a child.

It feels like there is a pressure to 'make' Christmas magical for our children, and at a time of year when there is enough stress going on, do we really need it? When there are cards to write, presents to buy, endless school events to remember - do we need the added strain of a family day out, or positioning an elf in a funny scenario every night? If you enjoy it, great, but how many parents actually dread trying to find the energy to TP their living room and suspend the elf from the ceiling once the kids are in bed?

And I know I'm not immune to this. A comment on my Book Advent post got me thinking about whether this would be too much pressure for some families. I did collect the books over three years rather than having to get all 24 in one go, and the books just appear one at a time in a Christmas gift bag hung on a hook on the kitchen door. As we have bedtime stories anyway it's very little extra hassle for me, but perhaps for other families it would be too much?

Then there's the Advent Acts Of Kindness too, which were fun last year but this year have been more of a chore, for me and for Girl Child. It's made me question whether I'm buying into this sense that I have to do something to make the run-up to Christmas more exciting, when as a child a chocolate before breakfast every morning was excitement enough! (Actually I remember having picture advent calendars when I was very young, and I still felt excited by them!!)

I sometimes think social media has turned parenting into a performance. We see other people sharing photos of their kids doing exciting, magical stuff and feel that what we're doing isn't enough. Events pop into our Facebook feed, with a message about how many of our friends are going to them, and we feel we should go too. But is it about what our children want or need? Is it about what we as parents can handle on top of everything else? Or is it about being seen doing Christmas 'right'?

This post is not for the people who enjoy Christmas events, or Elf On The Shelf, or any of the other modern 'traditions' that have sprung up in recent years. This post is for the people who feel they have to do all this even though it adds to the stress of the season. This post is for the people who haven't done anything more than buying Advent calendars and putting up the tree.

Christmas is magical enough as it is. Just do what you can do, what you want to do. The kids will be happy with whatever it is.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Bear-y Christmas! Four Festive Picture Books Featuring Bears

We're coming towards the end of Book Advent now and as we've worked through the big pile of wintery, Christmassy books I'd amassed I've noticed a little sub-theme emerging - bears! There seem to be quite a few festive books featuring bears (teddy or actual) as their protagonists. I've written before about 'A Letter For Bear' (have I mentioned I love that book?) but as there are quite a few beary books in my collection, I thought I'd talk about four others we've read this month.

'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown

Not technically a Christmas book, but it has a strong seasonal feel to it. This is the story of a little bear who can't find shelter on a snowy night - until he finds a little house, where a girl lives alone. It's a really simple but beautiful story of friendship which will give you a warm glow inside. The illustrations are just lovely too - the snow bear is so endearing and the little house is so inviting. This is a perfect story for snuggling up together on a chilly evening.

'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington

This book belonged to my husband when he was little. To be honest, there isn't much to it - it's a very basic story of a bear postman delivering gifts and cards on Christmas Eve. It also stops quite abruptly with him hanging up his stocking. It does have an old-fashioned charm to it, though, and the illustrations are detailed but child-friendly. It's an interesting book to compare against modern picture books, and actually my daughter used to really like it when she was around 3, so maybe I'm missing something!

'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve

In this sweet story, Sam's father goes out to fetch a Christmas surprise while he helps his mother with all the preparations for the day. But Dad is out for longer than they expect and Sam begins to worry. He makes a snowflake to hang in his window in the hope it will bring his Dad home. It's quite an emotional little story, perhaps not best suited to some families, but it does have a happy ending thankfully! I half suspect Dad nipped off to the pub to avoid all the other Christmas jobs though ...

'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Maggie Kneen

This is a real charmer of a book. Mr Grizzly, the bookshop owner, hates Christmas - especially now a sweet shop has opened up next door and there are sticky cubs everywhere. But one day an encounter with a not-sticky cub starts to melt his heart and he learns to embrace the joy not only of Christmas, but of children too. As well as having a very sweet, Christmas-Carol-esque story, the illustrations in this book are just exquisite and so detailed. Also, every page has pop-up parts or flaps to peek under, making it a really good book to read with children of different ages. My 5 year old can appreciate the message of the story while Toddler enjoys lifting the flaps!

Do you know of any other bear-y Christmas books? I'd love to hear any recommendations!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit. If you love books, do check out these linkies to find more posts like this one!

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

Two years ago, I saw a few tweets about a new Christmas book that was something very special. Published on a very tight turnaround, it was a retelling of the Nativity with the focus on the vulnerability of Jesus and his family and how they effectively became refugees after his birth. It came at a time when the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe was becoming desperate, and was sold to raise money for War Child, a charity working with displaced children. That book was 'Refuge'.

I bought the book that year and I absolutely love it. It's such a simple retelling of a very familiar story but each word is so carefully chosen, so thought-provoking. Sam Usher's illustrations are similarly simple yet striking, really evoking both the joy of the new arrival and the fear of Herod's reaction to the news of a new King.

Interestingly the simplicity of the illustrations sparked a conversation with Girl Child about the origins of the book. Throughout, Usher mostly uses monochrome with golden tones, and Girl Child asked me why all the pictures were 'black and white'. I explained to her that the book was written very quickly to raise money for refugees, so using mainly black and white meant that it could be illustrated and printed more quickly. This led to us talking about how Jesus was a refugee like the people escaping war now. 

I really love this book and everything it stands for. The concise text means that it is a great book to read with children of different ages - it's short enough for toddlers not to get bored, but there is enough in it to talk to older children about. It's not clear whether proceeds still go to War Child two years on, but nonetheless this is a useful book for starting conversations about the (sadly ongoing) refugee crisis.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 4 December 2017

Review: 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens

We are now a few days into our Book Advent, and on Day 2 we read a new Christmas book for this year, 'Oliver Elephant'.

I won this book in a giveaway on Toppsta (if you love children's books I really recommend this website - nope, not a sponsored post, just love it!) and read it to myself straight away but decided to keep it for Advent. That was hard though, as it's such a lovely book!

Noah is on a shopping trip with his mum, little sister, and his favourite toy, Oliver Elephant. As mum buys Christmas presents in different shops, Noah plays with Oliver, but when it's time to go home he realises Oliver is missing! Did he leave him in one of the shops?

I adored this book. Something about it reminded me of the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes - it's such a gentle, human story, so easy to relate to and simple, and told with such warmth. It's told in rhyming text too, which Girl Child really enjoyed as she read it to Toddler.

As well as being a lovely story beautifully told, the illustrations are gorgeous and so very festive. Toddler is maybe a little young for the story but he loved pointing out the details in the illustrations, and making his elephant noise every time Oliver appeared!

I really think this book has the makings of a Christmas classic. It's rare to find a book about just the everyday preparations involved in the run-up to Christmas so this is perfect to read as part of Advent. The story is familiar and warm, the text is rhythmic and fun, and the illustrations really capture the excitement of walking into a beautifully decorated mall.

Although this book was our 'Day 2 of Advent' story I'm hoping to get plenty more reads in this month, and in years to come!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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