Happy New Year! It’s Hibernation Time for me

Good morning! Happy New Year! It’s a cold and rainy dawn here in Galway…typical. The light is slowly creeping back into the days. The seasonal celebrations are over for another year and we are making a grand attempt to get back to “normal.” (But who knows what that is these days?)

Christmas is never over until the 6th of January, in my view. I have a bit of a Medieval soul it appears, for this was the day of the biggest celebration. You worked and worked right up to Christmas Eve and awoke Christmas Day to the Twelve Days of Christmas. (No…that’s not just a song.) And finally…The Feast of the Epiphany; Twelfth Night…here in Ireland Nollaig na mBan (Womens’ Christmas or Little Christmas.) And then…the waiting for spring.

I am always struck by a huge desire to hibernate. (And the feeling that I should have been hibernating before, but that’s another twist in the tale.) However, I still have to work…. the rent must be paid, along with the bills, and the tax man doesn’t seem to understand this notion of burrowing in against the cold; that last winter sleep before things start growing again. Pity…I am exhausted. The last two years have really taken it out of me. And something has to give this year.

So, my dear ones, with a stack of new ARCs and a new TBR pile, cups of tea and snuggy jumpers and pyjamas…I’m taking a bit of a blog break. I’ve been rather sporadic in the last while and I just need not to think about it for a bit. My Advent Calendar of Books page will be up until the end of January, and there are books listed on that page that are just winter books.

So…see you in a few weeks, when the weather is brighter. Stay warm, stay well, stay safe.

Best Teen & YA Books 2021

I’m finishing up my round-up of best kids books 2021 with favourites for Teens and Young Adult readers today….12 of the most dynamic and entertaining that I have read for this age group….or even if you’re all grown-up.

It was with great excitement that I got my hands on Precious Catastrophe by Deirdre Sullivan (Hot Key) The sequel to one of my absolute favourite reads, Perfectly Preventable Deaths takes us back to Ballyfrann and the strange lives of twin sisters Catlin and Maddie. Catlin is haunted by what happened to her; isolated and bereft. Maddie is learning ancient magics under the tutelage of local wise woman Mamó; learning that it isn’t all mindfulness and hats. It’s work – hard work.  The magic in this book is complex, woven naturally into life, demands sacrifice, but also responsibility, respect. Utterly amazing. (14+)

The Wanderer by Josie Williams (Firefly Press) has one of my favourite things in the entire book world; a dead narrator. Fifteen-year-old Maggie is in foster care following the death of her mother and her grandmother’s slip into dementia. When Ryder saves her life, she can’t help but fall in love with him. The only problem is that he has been dead for five years…  Unsentimental look at first love, growing up, loneliness and a sense of connection. (14+) And Firefly Press brought us another great book with a few similar, but still different take on these contemporary themes. Grow by Luke Palmer gives a very realistic look at what happens when a white supremacist group and its violent leader targets a vulnerable teenager. Josh is struggling to cope with his father’s recent death at the hands of terrorists. Will he find the strength to resist, or will his unlikely relationship with Dana give them both the escape that they so badly need? A powerful, compelling look at grief and possibility. (14+)

If you’re looking for some slightly younger fare, look no further than All the Money in the World by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (Orion Childrens’ Books). Fifteen-year-old Penny longs for something better. Better than a small, damp flat, her bullying classmates and uninterested teachers. Better than misery and poverty day in day out. An unlikely friendship and a huge sum of money promise a whole lot of new chances for Penny. Suddenly, she realises that not only can she change her life, she can change herself. But is that what she really wants? Timely, engaging, sometimes funny, always poignant. (11+) And for those with more gothic tastes, who like a bit of “creepy” built into their history, I can strongly recommend The Legend of Valentine Sorrow by Caroline Busher (Poolbeg Press) In Sligo of 1832, the cholera epidemic has swept across Ireland like a secret, bringing with it a family of four hundred year old Vampires. Unsuspecting orphan, Valentine, is unaware of the Vampires lurking in the shadows, until he finds himself flying through the star filled sky on his way to a Vampire’s Lair and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. And all the while, Vampire Hunters and an ancient Vampire seeking revenge is on his trail. A mesmerising, fantastical, moving tale. (11+)

From Andersen Press come two completely wonderful, chock full of humour and beautifully touching novels for 12+. In Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth, Aideen agrees to help ambitious Maebh deal with her crazy workload, but she doesn’t expect to end up pushing Maebh down the stairs. With this, Aideen becomes the school ‘fixer’: any problem a student has, Aideen will sort it out, from stealing confiscated mobiles to breaking into parties. But Aideen’s own life is a mess – her mam’s drinking again, her BFF Holly is avoiding her and she’s skipping school. Spending more time with the uptight (but annoyingly cute) Maebh and chatterbox Kavi, Aideen starts to wonder: can every problem be solved? Charming, witty, hilarious and highly entertaining! And then there’s Tremendous Things by Susin Neilsen. Wilbur has spent his teens being bullied and now he’s sure he’s nothing but a loser. After all, his best friend is 85 years old, and his only talent is playing the triangle in the school band. Things start to look up when a mix-up with the French exchange programme results in Wilbur being assigned a girl to look after– an amazing, sophisticated, beautiful French girl called Charlie. Wilbur is sure he’s in love, and his sometime friend Alex has a plan to give Wilbur the makeover that will get Charlie to love him back. But the course of true l’amour never did run smooth . . . I absolutely loved this book!

Dragonfly Eyes by Cao Wenxuán (Walker Books) is a family saga spanning fifty years, taking us from Golden-Age France through Shanghai in both luxury and poverty and into a re-imagined rural China and the Cultural Revolution. Ah-Mei and her French grandmother, Nainai, share a rare bond, perhaps because the pair look so alike and neither look much like the rest of their Chinese family. 1960s Shanghai is a hard place to grow up, especially with racism and bigotry so rife, and everyone is suspicious of Nainai’s European heritage. Ah-Mei and her family suffer much at this time. When the family silk business falters, they are left with almost nothing. But ever resourceful, Ah-Mei and Nainai have each other – and the tenderness they share brings them great strength. Lyrical, heartbreaking and heart-warming at the same time. (12+)

In WildLord by Phillip Womack (Little Island), we meet wild magic and ancient sorcery in a malevolent tale that whisks us through family history of the most unnerving kind. 16-year-old orphan Tom is not looking forward to having to stay at his boarding school over the summer. So when he gets a mysterious letter from Uncle James, whom he has never met, inviting him to his farm in Suffolk for the holidays, Tom jumps at the chance. However, he quickly realises something is terribly wrong at Mundham farm: but does it come from outside, or from within? As Tom starts to uncover the truth, he is confronted with a stark choice: infinite power or his freedom. Edgy, gripping, eerie and crackling with atmosphere. (14+)

Then there’s The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud (Walker Books)…and wow! No…WOW!!! This is phenomenal! Set in a broken, future England, where gunfights and monsters collide, with all the flavour of the old Wild West: England has been radically changed by a series of catastrophes – cities have disappeared and London has been replaced by a lagoon. The surviving population exists in fortified towns where they cling to traditional ways, while strangely evolved beasts prowl the wilderness beyond. Conformity is rigidly enforced and those who fall foul of the rules are persecuted: killed or driven out into the wilds to deal with the dangers lurking there alone. Only a few fight back – and two of these outlaws, Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne, display an audacity and talent that makes them legends. Seeping with dark humour and wild imagination, I couldn’t put it down. (12+)

I’m going to end with 2 books not included in the photo. (This is because they were grabbed by an avid reader in the family, who is enjoying the repeatedly.) And I cannot leave them out! The stunning Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (Walker Books) takes place 17 years before the events of her pivotal book, The Hate U Give. 17-year-old Maverick Carter is navigating his life between school, working 2 jobs and slinging dope in Garden Heights. He’s got it all under control…until he finds out he’s a father and ends up raising baby, Seven on his own. When Mav is offered the opportunity to go straight, it’s the chance he needs…but it’s not that easy, is it? Gritty, heartfelt and rings so true. (14+)

The breath-taking Noughts & Crosses series came to a conclusion this year with Endgame by Malorie Blackman (Penguin.) There were ten seats at the dinner party held by notorious ganglord, Dan Jeavons the night he was killed. Each guest had their own reasons for wishing him dead. Sephy Hadley was one of the guests that night. Haunted by the idea that she didn’t do enough to stop the death of her first love, Callum McGregor, Sephy will not sit quietly and wait for accusations to fall on her now. She has her children to protect. It’s time the whole truth was revealed…it’s time for the endgame. Shattering conclusion to the series that first began twenty years ago. Just incredible!

12 of the Best Picture Books: 2021

Hello! I love picture books, don’t you? So as promised, I’m back today with 12 of the best from 2021 (before the flood of 2022 picture books appears.) All have appeared somewhere in FallenStar Stories throughout the last year. Young or old, you won’t want to miss any of these beauties.

Graffeg Ltd played a blinder this year in terms of their picture book publication. They carried on with some of the spectacular picture series this year…and all were wondrous. Let’s begin with a new one from a series that is so dear to my heart. Molly and the Shipwreck by Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson is the 5th in the Molly series and in my opinion, it’s the best one yet. Encountering a sinking boat while out fishing, Molly and her Daddy come to the rescue of a family desperately trying to find safe harbour. A warm, wonderful, compassionate and surprising read! Following on, another dear series that I adore, and is perfect for sharing with the whole family (or class) are the Mouse and Mole books. Mouse and Mole: The Secret of Happiness by Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew made me laugh and warmed me right down to my toes. This book with it’s beautiful, detailed pictures and brilliant daily life adventures captures the spirit of friendship and kindness. Makes you wonder and think, too. Speaking of wondering and thinking, there were 3 new additions to the Wild Wanderers series by Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou this year. And while I loved them all, my favourite would have to be Blow, Wind, Blow! Here, we chase the wind as it travels across the planet; through fields, oceans, mountains and watch it toss the clouds, scatter seeds and stir the seas. Truly wondrous! And finally from Graffeg Ltd that made my list, the lovely Fletcher and the Caterpillar by Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke. Part of the Fletcher the fox series, Fletcher makes a new teeny friend, which he minds with great care. But Caterpillar doesn’t want to play, and when he stops munching, Fletcher is worried…but a great surprise in in store!

(I just realised I put the wrong Fletcher book in the photo below. Yes, I’m too lazy to rephotograph the whole thing. So here’s the correct one. But Fletcher and the Springtime Blossom is great, too.)

Moving right along… Ever since The Snatchabook first came out, I always get ridiculously excited when a new book by Helen and Thomas Docherty arrives at my door. In The Screen Thief (Alison Green Books), a young Snaffle arrives in the city and just wants to play. But everyone is too busy looking at their screens. Suddenly, the Snaffle finds that she likes screens, too…as a snack!!! Brilliant! Just brilliant!

The Vanishing Lake by Paddy Donnelly (YeeHoo Press) is enchanting and utterly captivating. A determined young girl, a wise granddad full of far-fetched stories and a mysterious vanishing lake. A tale of fascinating natural wonder that just may have a mystical explanation…according to Granddad.

I find wordless picture books completely magical. Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng (Walker Books) shows us what can happen when a lonely little girl and her grandparent find exactly the right family to move in and renovate the run-down, tattered rooms above their shop. Filled with vision, imagination, love and a message about belonging.

Meet Howard the Average Gecko by Wendy Meddour and Carmen Saldana (OUP) Howard believes he is completely exceptional because no other creature in the jungle can camouflage themselves like he can. When he learns differently, Howard wonders who will love him if he’s just an average gecko. But then he meets Dolores and discovers that he IS exceptional, just as he is. And another journey of self-discovery (and world-discovery!) can be found in Ergo by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz (Walker Books) When Ergo the chick awakens, she begins to explore the world only to find…she IS the world! But then, hearing and feeling something beyond the wall that surrounds her, Ergo begins to wonder. A very sweet story, happy, gentle and adventurous, this is one to lead us all to consider the entire world…and our place in it.

That lovable Puffling is back in Puffling and the Egg by Erika McGann and Gerry Daly (O’Brien Press) She’s leading us on a merry chase all over Skellig Michael as she tries to retrieve a runaway egg. Nothing will stop Puffling from doing what must be done! You’ll laugh; you’ll gasp; you’ll fall in love with Puffling and her friends. And you may even learn a few things.

A beautiful release for the winter months, Frindleswylde by Natalia and Lauren O’Neill (Walker Books) is an enchanting fairytale that speaks of determination, cleverness and the power of love. In order to bring light back to her world, Cora must journey into the magical frozen land ruled by Frindleswylde and complete three impossible tasks. Beautifully written with gorgeous illustrations…this is a classic in the making!

Finally, a book about the fascination, friendship and community to be found through stories and books! Moose’s Book Bus by Inga Moore (Walker Books) takes us back into lives of the animals of A House in the Woods. When Moose runs out of stories to tell his family, he heads off to the library! But no sooner has he settled down to read aloud when Bear, Badger, Fox…in fact the entire population of the Woods arrive to hear the books. Mooses’ house is overcrowded with tale-loving folk. What will he do?

And that’s a wrap on my 2021 Picture Books. Upcoming: Teen and YA Book Favourites…which is the final 2021 installment. See you soon.

A Collection of Favourites from 2021: The Middle-Grade Books

Before the onslaught of brand new and fabulous books hit the shelves, let’s have a little wander through this past years “best childrens’ books ” shall we? I spent a lot of my time wallowing in kids books throughout 2021. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order.

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo; illustrations by Sophie Blackall (Walker Books) is a beautifully crafted fable that you don’t so much as feel it. With its’ timeless nature; old but ever new; dreamlike and real, the characters reveal their own stories their gifts and challenges, through the weaving of the story, each one suited perfectly to the role they play. It is a quiet, comforting and yet dynamic story of stories. Extraordinary!

One that simply stunned me with it’s emotion, eloquence and incredible, yet thoroughly relatable story is October, October by Katya Balen (Bloomsbury Childrens.) October and her dad live in the woods and they are wild. And that’s the way it is. Until the year October turns 11, rescues a baby owl and Dad falls out of the biggest tree in the woods…everything changes. If you have ever felt the pull of the wild, this is the one for you.

By Ash, Oak and Thorn and its’ sequel, By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison (Chicken House) take us on a remarkable trek through the natural world, into a familiar urban life and back home again with some of the “Hidden Folk” all to find that which is in danger of vanishing. Tailor-made to inspire curiosity and adventure, rich in wildness, beautiful, imaginative; a captivating glimpse into a world just outside our doors. In Bigfoot Mountain by Roderick O’Grady (Firefly Press), we travel to the west coast in the US. Surely Bigfoot is just a myth. But when encroaching wildfires, these mythical creatures to venture forth and their story collides with that of a young girl whose life, family and home have been shaken to the core. A story of courage, healing, protecting the natural world and incredible adventure.

From Bigfoot Mountain, we have a long journey in Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World by Erika McGann (O’Brien Press). the story of a foundling girl, her awful “cousins” and her dear friends who live on the cliff-face at the edge of the world. Things take a nasty turn, when the end of life at the edge of the world is threatened. Tabitha knows it’s down to her to save them all, even if she doesn’t quite know how. Full of spirit and wonder!

Looking for a crackin’ mystery set in history? Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery and The Burglars Ball by Julia Golding (Lion Fiction) whisks us back in time, with all the customs, social expectations and atmosphere as would only be expected in the late 18th century and mysteries that are pure genius! Our bold, intelligent, familiar heroine (before she’s grown and writing novels) with her strong observational skills, determined to shine a light on injustice will stop at nothing to reveal all. So clever, so intriguing and hugely appealing…a fantastic series!

For history of a different kind, Maria’s Island by Victoria Hislop (Walker Books), has taken us back to her classic, The Island and rewritten for children. A tale of the time when leprosy was a grave concern, this is stunning! Sorrow, stigma, empathy, hope, love, effortlessly rewoven into an absorbing, moving, simply wonderful book that must be shared. And The Kidds of Summerhill by Ann Murtagh (O’Brien Press), set in the Dublin tenements in 1945, is filled with accurate historical detail, Telling a story of family struggle, it is full of life, hope, steadfastness and with moments of humour and delight. A simply marvelous story!

I do love a bit of dystopia, as you may know. This is one, just recently released and it must be read! Orchard by Geraldine Mills (Andrena Press) is the sequel to Gold (Little Island) and is incredible. A dramatic and thrilling journey home; gripping adventure, heartfelt, warm & imaginative; may just fire a few flights of fancy of your own. Amazing…simply amazing.

Okay, have I forgotten anybody? I’m sure I have, but… that’s eleven of my favourite MG books and I’d better stop there, before I end up recounting my entire reading list. This year has been astounding for books that capture the imagination, inspire creative thinking and sometimes, just entertain and make us laugh as they whisk us into other lives, other places and even other creatures. (Basically, there’s more on this blog for you to check out.) I’ll be back with favourite picture books soon.

Returning Home with Precious Cargo: Orchard by Geraldine Mills

Orchard (and Gold) by Geraldine Mills; cover illustration, Lauren O’Neill

In 2016, one of my favourite books of all time appeared in the world; Gold by Geraldine Mills (Little Island.) A speculative, dystopian book, we were taken on a journey with twins Starn and Esper Brock, as they venture across the skies and sea, following a map that could lead them to a better world. With the feel of a classic as Treasure Island or the Swiss Family Robinson, it is thoroughly contemporary and now, given all that has happened in the years since its’publication, timely, relatable and somewhat prescient. Beautifully written, with a clear love of language, a firm grasp on world-building and an real sense of adventure, Gold is simply wonderful.  But we left our heroes dangling through the air in a hot-air balloon on their trek back to Orchard Territory. It’s time to bring them home…

ORCHARD

author: Geraldine Mills

cover illustration: Lauren O’Neill

Andrena Press (12 December 2021)

ISBN: 9781919623603

After their nail-biting journeys across the Virus Islands and fierce battle with the Saggitars on Colmen, twins Starn and Esper Brock are now returning home with their treasure to save Orchard Territory. But that’s more difficult than they could have imagined with obstacle after obstacle, challenge after challenge getting in the way. First, crash-landing their balloon on volcanic Mannioc, they come face to face with an old foe they presumed dead. Almost drowning in a lava bubble, hearing of their fathers’ cruel fate and having to abandon their wolf companion may have thrown plans into chaos, but it also makes them more determined to reach Orchard with their precious cargo. As they head off, this time landing on Vasuri again, they find themselves involved in a plot to free Orchard from the terrible iron fisted grip of Chief Typheon and his ruthless Saggitars. But even if they do make it home and the mission is successful, who will take them in now that their father will not be there to greet them?

Let me begin by saying that you don’t have to read Gold to grasp the story. There is enough information peppered throughout Orchard that you will easily understand the adventure, characters and impact of the tale. But…you will want to.

Filled with twists and turns, the perfectly paced plot and exceptional writing moves the reader through the action with fluidity, gripping from the start. Orchard picks up immediately after the final events in Gold. We immediately learn about the life enforced by fear and manipulation that Starn and Esper have left behind and are now returning to. They have grown and their return journey is not just bringing them home, but towards a new type of understanding and strength of will. That hunger for adventure, to be part of the action and the change has now been tempered (a little bit) by all they have seen and learned along the way. We are reminded of the extent of their previous reckless and rash nature when we meet Leone on Vasuri Island… a bold, clever but naive girl who is determined to prove herself no matter what. As the story moves seamlessly between the boys quest and Leones’ adventures, the reader is given a full picture of their world ; how government can easily play on insecurities of people caught up in disasters; the different environments that are struggling hard to repair themselves after catastrophe; the different social groups that have emerged; the hopes, fears, cooperation and conflicts at work in society and in the natural world… and a strong, enduring image of the interdependence of man and nature.

I have to say something about the bees, for they are the heart and soul of this story. There are many snippets of information about bees throughout this duology, building a comparison in ways between bee life and human life. The bees also act as a foundation through which the boys build their own personal history; the work of their Great Aunt Tartesah, her lifes’ work and her writings, The Book of Gold and The Way of the Bee.They are the reason for the return journey, for while Starn and Esper thought the were seeking gold, they found something far more valuable…and through the bees, they found hope and endurance.

There is so much in this story…and yet, it is a simple, wondrous adventure tale. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a dark, heavy-handed tome. It is filled with light, life and humour, finding amusing and entertaining moments among the unsettling. It is full of nuance, beauty and wonder. Clear, compassionate, heartfelt, warm and imaginative, and may just fire a few flights of fancy of your own. Which is exactly what we need in our world today Amazing…utterly amazing.

I want to thank Geraldine Mills for the opportunity to join in Starn and Espers’ adventure once again. I have loved…and will continue to love…every page of it. It’s brilliant to have the boys back home.

If you want to know more about Geraldines’ work: http://www.geraldinemills.com/pgs/about.html

If you’re looking for Gold by Geraldine Mills :http://littleisland.ie/books/gold/

Happy Christmas to All….

Well that’s a wrap over on the Advent Calendar of Books page. We have arrived at Christmas Eve. If you haven’t had a look yet, please do. Personally, I think there are some wonderful books there! Now I’m going to settle in to the festivities here…a small family visit today, there are still p resents to be wrapped, food to be made and Santa tracker is up and running and the Big Man is on his way across the globe.

I will be back next week with a very special book review (that this busy season found me neglecting) and also…my best books of 2021. Then it will be the New Year and time for this blogger to take a bit of a break. Burn-out has been particularly strong this year. (You may have noticed.)

But in the meantime, I was you all a very Happy Christmas and, especially a wondrous Jolabokaflod!

illustration by Jenny Nystrom

Who’s on the Naughty List? Jingles’ Christmas Adventure by Jack Walsh

Jingles’ Christmas by Jack Walsh; illustrated by Jay Penn; Tribes Press

Isn’t it wonderful to see young people embracing their creativity, especially at Christmas time? It is the perfect time of year for children to not only read seasonal stories, but to tell their own. The old characters and familiar tales take on a special twist in the hands of kids, bringing them into today and making these adventures brand new. But imagine having a book professionally illustrated and published at the age of 12; to tell a story that brings contemporary themes, excitement and fun to the celebration? That’s Christmas magic at its’ best! Have a look at this….

JINGLES’ CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE

author: Jack Walsh

illustrator: Jay Penn

Tribes Press (November 2021)

ISBN: 9781912441426

As Jingles the Elf was wrapping Christmas presents for the big night, Santa comes in to find help checking the Naughty and Nice List…it’s so long, now! And Jingles couldn’t believe her luck when Santa chose her. It’s a big job, so Santa and Jingles get to work! But nothing is ever quite as easy as it seems. On a day that was supposed to be spectacular, Santa and Jingles find themselves off on a Christmas journey of the most unexpected kind; through the air on flying carpets, escaping captivity in the Driftwood Peaks, to the Ice Palace all to save Christmas from menacing, present-stealing Mike O’Flaherty!

Ice Palace by Jay Penn

This is a well-imagined contemporary Christmas story filled with wonderful, fast-paced action that holds interest. Madcap, well thought out characters take us on a rocket-ride across a snowy landscape with plenty of drama and adventure. Santas’ preparation for his big day comes with modern necessities, such as a computer to keep track of the Naughty and Nice List (which, as you might imagine is REALLY long these days) and of course, there’s the obligatory glitch that sets the whole tale off on a whirlwind. Quirky situations and scenarios, laugh-out-loud moments and some touching scenes that highlight themes of community and cooperation make this a thoroughly enjoyable read…one any child will love.

Jingles by Jay Penn

The black-and-white illustrations by Jay Penn scattered through the pages add a marvelous, mischievous atmosphere, capturing small vignettes of the story, landscape and characters, bringing them to life with expressive detail.

A fun action adventure told with a genuine voice from a young author; delightful, entertaining and loads of Christmas spirit…what’s not to love?

Many thanks to Tribes Press for sharing this wonderful book with me in exchange for an honest review. https://tribespress.com/product/jingles-christmas-adventure/

To find out more about Jingles’ Christmas Adventure and Jack Walsh…. https://www.jackandeoin.com/home

And if you want to know more about Jay Penns’ illustration work… https://jaypenn.com/

Christmas Brings…New Picture Books

Every Christmas since I was a baby, I was gifted with a seasonal, holiday or winter picture book…brand new and all mine. There is very little else that brings that feeling of Christmas spirit as choosing a new picture book for my now extensive collection. Then to curl up on Christmas Eve with my own personal Jolabokaflod…cup of hot chocolate, a few Christmas cookies (homemade and delicious!) and a book full of wintry illustrations and good cheer. Absolute heaven! It is a habit I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. With so many fantastic new books every year, the choice can be a little daunting. But here are a few suggestions to get me started…and maybe you, as well.

Evies’ Christmas Wishes by Siobhan Parkinson, illustrations by Shannon Bergin: Christmas is coming and Evie is really excited! She’s helping Mammy and Daddy make the pudding, decorate the tree, ice the cake, write to Santa…there’s so much to do. And she has so many wishes! As the days get closer, Evies’ Christmas wishes start to come true. Evie gets a singing part in the school Nativity; it snows and best of all, Uncle Sean is coming home for Christmas. And he’s bringing a very special surprise! A beautiful, very special Christmas story with a sense of all the joy and celebration, with warm, colourful illustrations that show the building excitement of a real family Christmas. (Little Island)

Frindleswylde by Natalia O’Hara; illustrated by Lauren O’Hara: There’s a tremble in the wind and the sun grows pale. All the small wild creatures hide. Frindleswylde is coming! And when the mystical boy enters Cora and Grandmas’ house, he steals the light from their lantern. Cora must get the light back for Grandma. To do so, she follows Frindleswylde down a hole in the pond to his magical kingdom. There, in order to retrieve the light, Cora must undertake three Impossible Tasks…. As frosty and magical as The Snow Queen, this is a haunting, adventurous fable that will live on as a classic in your heart. Enchanting, lovely illustrations! (Walker Books)

What would Christmas be without ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (accredited to) Clement C Moore? And this new edition is illustrated by no other than P.J. Lynch; master illustrator. Rich, atmospheric, evocative of the old favourite tale; filled with wondrous detail…the embers in the fire, the colour and shimmer of the toys and the sugar plums, the texture of the reindeers’ fur, the twinkle in old St Nicks’ eyes; this is Christmas magic in it’s original form. A book-lovers, Christmas-lovers must have; it will be the first one to come out every year. (Walker Books)

The Snowflake by Benji Davies: High up in the clouds, a brand new snowflake is made. Soft, fluffy, sparkling and white…the she begins to fall. And the Snowflake finds a little girl dreaming of a Christmas Tree like the one she, her granddad and their dog see as they pass by the store window on their way home. Both are looking for something; both wish to find their own special place in the big, wide world. A lovely, compassionate story that quietly sings of hope, coming together and finding where you belong. A perfect Christmas book to share. (HarperColllinsChildrensBook)

Jan Bretts’ The Nutcracker: I love a classic Christmas book and this one is a real beauty. When Marie and her brother Fritz receive a special Christmas nutcracker from their uncle, Marie immediately feels something magical. He looks like a real boy, she mused. A real boy with a secret, who came from far away.…and so the magic begins. Exquisite, subdued illustrations take us through the epic journey she goes on with the Nutcracker…into the cabinet, through the fierce battle with the mice, into nthe land of the SugarPlum Fairy…magical and timeless. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

The Fire Fox by Alexandra Page; illustrations by Stef Murphy: A beautiful bedtime story set in the frozen north. This is inspired by the Saami myth of the revontulet (fox fires.) The light has gone out of Freyas’ life since her dad passed away. So she and her Mum have retreated to the little cabin for a while. When she meets a magical fox, Freya follows him deep into the forest, where sparks fly from the foxs’ fur…and become the Northern Lights. A comforting, reassuring story of loss; deliciously, quietly wild; a message of hope and finding light in the darkest nights. Beautiful! (Two Hoots)

Looks like I have a decision to make! What will I add to my Christmas Book Basket?

Kids Classics for Christmas…and all year long

Up on the rooftop by Jessie Willcox Smith

It’s true. Classic childrens books are favourite gifts to give at Christmastime. These stories still have the power to take us away on fabulous journeys to unknown worlds, forgotten times and can spark some pretty lively discussions. There are so many brand new books for kids out (all the time!) but these classics, both old and modern, offer so much in terms of storytelling, imagination, excitement and a glimpse of life. Give them for Christmas…read them all year long.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearse: Tom is sent to stay at his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer when his brother gets the measles. He’s sure he will find nothing but endless weeks of boredom. Lying awake in his bed, Tom hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike . . .eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen?! Tom races down the stairs and out the back door, into a garden everyone told him wasn’t there. In this enchanted thirteenth hour, the garden comes alive – but Tom is never sure whether the children he meets there are real or ghosts . . .or something else altogether.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Bored, restless Milo, who doesn’t see much point in anything, steps into an extraordinary voyage, taking him to such places as the Doldrums, the Mountains of Ignorance, the Land of Expectation and the Castle in the Air. He meets the weirdest characters along the way, like Tock, the watchdog, the Gelatinous Giant, and the mumbling Threadbare Excuse, and, once home, can hardly wait to try out the Tollbooth again. But will it be still there when he gets back from school? Brilliantly mad adventure!

Stig of the Dump by Clive King: Barney is a solitary little boy, given to wandering off by himself. One day, lying on the edge of a disused chalk-pit, it gives way and Barney finds himself in a sort of cave. Here he finds Stig,  ‘somebody with a lot of shaggy hair and two bright black eyes’ wearing a rabbit skin and speaking in grunts. Nobody believes Barney when he tells them all about Stig, but for Barney cave-man Stig is totally real. A series of unforgettable adventures that will fire the imagination for years!

Charlotte’s Web by E B White: A firm favourite, this is the touching, humorous story of a pig, a spider and a little girl. Wilbur the pig’s life has already been saved by Fern, but when he is sold to her uncle, Wilbur realises his life is in even more danger. Enter Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider. Charlotte is determined to keep Wilbur from the chopping block, and comes up with an ingenious way to do just that. Filled with tears, laughter and true friendship.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton: Borrowers live in the secret places of houses; behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. They own nothing, borrow everything, and think that human beings were invented just to do the dirty work. Arrietty’s father, Pod, was an expert Borrower, but girls weren’t supposed to go borrowing. It’s too dangerous. As Arrietty was an only child, her father broke the rule. and then something happened which changed their lives. She made friends with the human boy… Equally exciting and enchanting!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: The Wild Wood seems a terrifying place to Mole, until one day he pokes his nose out of his burrow and finds it’s full of friends. He meets brave Ratty, kind old Badger and the rascally Mr Toad, and together they go adventuring … but the Wild Wood doesn’t just contain friends, there are also the sinister weasels and stoats, and they capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail. How will he escape? Can the friends join together to save Toad Hall? With tons of humour and a sense of enchantment, it’s just beautiful.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: When Mary Lennox is sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody says she is the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It is true, too. Mary is pale, spoilt, quite contrary…and horribly lonely. Then one day she hears about a garden in the grounds of the Manor that has been kept locked and hidden for years. And when a friendly robin helps Mary find the key, she discovers the most glorious garden anyone could imagine… Truly magical!

The Railway Children by E Nesbit: Father goes away with two strangers one evening and the lives of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis are shattered. They have to move from their comfortable London home to live in a simple country cottage, where Mother writes books to make ends meet. Soon, they come to love the railway that runs nearby, and they make a habit of waving to the Old Gentleman who rides on it. When the children save a train from oncoming disaster, they are helped by the Old Gentleman to solve the mystery of their father’s disappearance. Heartwarming and brave adventure!

And since we’re talking about E Nesbit, you simply must read Five Children & It: ‘Don’t you know a sand-fairy when you see one?’ I dare say you have often thought about what you would do if you were granted three wishes. The five children – Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and their baby brother – had often talked about it but when they are faced with the grumpy sand-fairy they find it difficult to make up their minds. And that is just the beginning of their dilemmas. There is nothing quite like a wish for getting you into terrible trouble. Quirky, thought-provoking and gripping.

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery: Anne Shirley is an 11-year-old orphan who has hung on determinedly to an optimistic spirit and a wildly creative imagination. She erupts into the lives of aging brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a girl instead of the boy they had sent for. Thus begins a story of transformation for all three, as the whole rural community of Avonlea comes under Anne’s influence in some way. Intelligent, hot-headed as her own red hair, Anne makes plenty of mistakes… and doesn’t always learn from them. Plucky, impetuous Anne will capture your heart!

Peter Pan and Wendy by J M Barrie: If you haven’t read the original story, you absolutely must! Desperate to hear bedtime stories, Peter Pan waits outside the nursery window of Wendy, John and Michael Darling. When Peter asks Wendy to fly with him to Neverland, the Darling children are whisked away to a world of adventure – of daring fairies, wondrous mermaids and The Lost Boys. But there is danger in Neverland too: the villainous Captain Hook is out for revenge and will stop at nothing to take it. The captivating tale of the boy who never grows up; magical, indeed!

Happy Christmas…Happy Holiday Season…Happy Reading!

Welcome December and all it brings…

Yes, welcome December. Another year draws to a close. And it’s time for me to talk about all the great books I have found or refound over the year. Books that have kept me sane (sort of) and given me hope in a year that has been….challenging. I know I’ve been talking about books all year long. It’s what I do. But now, I attempt to put them together in lists….my best books of the year will appear here soon, one or two “themed collections” (maybe) and of course….

Mary’s Advent Calendar of Books. This is a page I put together every year, starting the 1st of December. Twenty-four books, some specific to Christmas, some that are “wintry,” some novels for children and young people, some picturebooks, some new, some old favourites ; all to take you right up to Christmas Eve. These are the books that I tuck into as the busy season plummets head-long towards the great day, bringing intrigue, fascination and, what we really need at this moment…comfort. That’s the goal, anyway.

So, please, when you stop by FallenStar Stories on your journey around the blogosphere, be sure to check out the page, Marys’ Advent Calendar of Books. You never know what you might find there….

‘Tis the season!

p.s. I hope you’ve all been enjoying #BookElves2021. It’s been a busy week for all the BookElves and we’ve been working very hard to give the very best suggestions. Tomorrow is our final day, so if you haven’t already, do check us out. The posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will be there long after tomorrow and we would love your feedback. Also, feel free to give us a shout with any bookish questions you may have. The BookElves love to help!