Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Dear Father Christmas, by Alan Durant. Illustrated by Vanessa Cabban

dearfatherchristmas_(Almost unheard of in Vulpes Libris history: this is the first of two children’s book reviews this week, as our lovely new Bookfox KirstyD is here tomorrow with another.)

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow Bookfoxes and Xmasphobes everywhere, I’m going to talk about a children’s Christmas book. I know, I know, it’s only October, but I also know that many of my friends are making Christmas purchases at the moment, and are specifically looking for good book recommendations.

Strictly speaking, Dear Father Christmas is more like an advent present, because naturally it’s not nearly as fun to open a Christmas book for the first time on Christmas morning and only have a week to enjoy it. Ideally, I’d want to read this kind of bedtime story every evening in December, to really get those festive juices going and ratchet up the seasonal excitement.

Slightly embarrassingly, we’ve already started on our Christmas books (more embarrassingly I’ve also started listening to Christmas music on the sly. Heck, I’m listening to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” right now – someone shoot me) and so we’re regularly discussing Difficult Questions such as 1) “Why is he called Father Christmas in some books and Santa Claus in other books?” 2) How does he know who’s naughty and nice? 3) Why don’t the elves look very happy?” (overwork + lack of a proper Elf Union, most probably) 4) Which Father Christmas is the real one?

Well, Dear Father Christmas goes some way to answering these questions.

The story is about a girl called Holly who goes to meet Father Christmas with her family in a high street department store. After meeting him, Holly’s mum wants Holly and her brother to write their Christmas lists, but Holly has some reservations and decides to write a proper letter to Father Christmas instead. In it, she asks if the Father Christmas she saw in the high street shop was in fact the real deal, or an imposter. The next day, she finds a red letter addressed to her, and this letter is glued into the book ready for little fingers to open.

Holly is thrilled to receive this letter from Father Christmas, but after reading it, she has some more questions: this time about elves, so she writes another letter. Holly receives another reply, and thinks of some more practical questions about the logistics of the Christmas Eve operation: how does Father Christmas fit down the chimney? How does he go around the world in just one night? How do the reindeer fly without wings?

All solid questions.

Holly receives answers and her fourth letter includes a brilliant folded fact sheet called “Father Christmas’s Reindeer Guide”, which answers pretty much any question you might have about magical reindeer.

I won’t give away the ending of the book, which is splendid and made even more magical by its stunning illustrations, but I have to mention that on the final page there is a red envelope containing a silver and blue ticket valid for one sleigh ride with Father Christmas. This item has been a source of great joy for my daughter, as the thought of such a journey with Father Christmas is almost too exciting to bear.

Now, this is the sort of book that I’d have obsessed over as a child. Somewhere in my late teens and twenties I’d have found this book completely schmaltzy and intolerable. But here, in my thirties, with a small child who is already giddy with Christmas excitement, I love it.

So, if you happen to know a young, inquisitive child who’s already thinking about reindeer, sleighs and elves, I can highly recommend Dear Father Christmas.

(Full disclosure: sometimes I even read this after my daughter has gone to bed, just as a little treat for myself. And, if you need any more encouragement, many retailers are selling it for around four pounds, which is a bargain, given that should you ever run into the real Father Christmas, you’ll be able to present him with that ticket for one magical sleigh ride …)

Walker Books, 32 pages, £6.99, paperback, ISBN 978-1-4063-5149-1.

2 comments on “Dear Father Christmas, by Alan Durant. Illustrated by Vanessa Cabban

  1. Jackie
    October 23, 2013

    I’ll admit I was startled when I saw it was a Christmas book so soon, but your logic makes a lot of sense. This sounds like a wonderful book & I like the whole idea of it. I’m really curious about what’s on that info sheet about magical reindeer.This book must be very heart-warming and your review did it justice. I was smiling by the end of it.
    P.S. I usually start listening to Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving(last Thursday in November) when the holiday shopping season commences in the U.S.

  2. Lisa
    October 24, 2013

    Jackie, I’m interested in that timetable, because I was starting to feel a bit panicky about my lack of Christmas preparedness. I have friends who have done ALL of their Christmas shopping already, and wrapped it!!! That level of organisation is beyond me.

    I think you would very much enjoy the info sheet about magical reindeer. I love it when children’s books have special little touches like this, especially as some kids’ books are SO BORING. I ought to write a post on terrible picture books one day, although somehow that feels far more mean than writing a negative review of an adult book.

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: children's.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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