Showing posts with label Christmas Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas Press. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Princess Hayley’s Comet


Princess Hayley’s Comet by Rebecca Fung; illustrations by Kathy Creamer.
(Christmas Press) RRP $13.99  ISBN 978 0994 528 070

Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke

Debut author Rebecca Fung has taken a fun idea, punning on the name of the famous Halley’s comet, and produced an enjoyable and original story for young readers.

Princess Hayley’s Comet is a slim little book with an engaging cover and the promise of an active storyline. The cover illustration by Kathy Creamer is attractive in bold primary colours and the dynamic swirling path of the golden comet looks appropriately regal. The expressions on the faces of the king and the princess give a hint of the plot.

The first page plunges straight in to the crux of the story: “Dearest Hayley,” asked the King. “What would you like for your birthday?”

A princess with everything she could ever wish for, the soon-to-be-ten-year-old Princess Hayley asks for a comet.

Although set in a traditional, generic fairy-tale castle, this story does introduce elements of science fiction as the narrative unfolds. Some basic information about real comets is embedded at the beginning of the story. The princess obtains information about comets from her book Simple Astronomy. She wonders about the personality of a comet:

Hayley was sure the comet was independent, exciting and adventurous, and the more she felt that, the more she adored it.”

The comet symbolises Princess Hayley’s own personality, and her desire for adventure and exploration.

The idea of capturing and riding a comet (without being burned to ashes) is unrealistic. However, Fung manages to pull this absurd situation off, the reader suspending disbelief and going along with the story. Afterall, the fairy-tale genre does not set up an expectation of realism.

In eleven chapters liberally sprinkled with black and white drawings, the book is accessible, dynamic and inviting to primary school children, and offers both visual and textual surprises on each page. The size of the book is appropriate for child hands and the text is well-spaced and not at all daunting.

Princesses are standard fare in children’s literature. How does Hayley compare with the stereotype? She has a benevolent father, the king, ready to grant her every wish. (The Queen is not mentioned.) Princess Hayley has a collection of exotic birthday presents including polar bears, golden treehouses and diamond tiaras. She has servants to assist her in everyday life at the palace. But unlike many princesses, she isn’t isolated or lonely.

With two “equal best” friends, Ned and Cara, Princess Hayley is a well socialised and resourceful character. When the King’s Advisors say that a birthday comet is impossible, she actively devises strategies to catch her own comet.

Kathy Creamer’s illustrations reveal a princess who wears plaits with her crown, and boots with her regal robes, that are a sensible calf-length for active movement.

If there is a moral to this enjoyable tale, it is that girls are capable, interested in science and don’t need the help of male authority figures to achieve their goals.
A great addition to every little princess’s book collection.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Miniature Christmas


A Miniature Christmas edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) RRP $24.99 PB ISBN 9780648194514

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

This is jam-packed with Christmas goodies. As the title suggests, the stories delve into many miniature worlds. Beattie Alvarez has done a wonderful job compiling twelve illustrated stories bringing with them Christmas, imagination and the wonder of magic.

Suitable for 7 – 10-year olds this book could be read to a younger audience. Each story brings a sense of the Christmas spirit, the magic of genies, goblins, Fuchsia fairies, the delight of miniature Christmas scenes, toy apps, trees brought to life, the charm of Christmas decorations, elves tugging on your ear, a take on Peter Pan at Christmas, and small creature pulling together to make Christmas great.
There is a story here for everyone.

Some of the authors include Dianne Bates with her story ‘George the Genie’, illustrated by Sally Heinrich.  George is summoned by an unsavoury character, and the wishes he is asked to grant go beyond his moral being. So George and the rest of his clan concoct a plan to teach Bernie Blister a lesson.

‘Christmas with the Fuchsia Fairies’ text and photographs by Kathy Creamer, brings your imagination to life. When Rosie Dimpleberry finds water sprite Tinkle crying, she along with the rest of her friends find a way make Tinkle’s Christmas special.

‘A Mouse Christmas’ by Natalie Jane Prior, illustrated by Amy Bogard, tells the story of Marigold the mouse who lives under floor board under the stove, with her mother and two siblings, Star and Silas. Being mice they sleep all day and venture out at night when the black and white dog, and the humans are sleeping. Marigold gets caught up in the wonder of the Christmas food and though the dog tries to sniff her out, at the stroke of midnight they share a special moment of what Christmas really means.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lucy Newton, Little Witch


Lucy Newton, Little Witch by Phoebe McArthur (Christmas Press) PB RRP $13.99 ISBN: 9780648194507

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What’s a young witch to do, with her mother out of the house (again) and her favourite doll in danger of losing an arm? Despite a ban on using magic (established due to Lucy’s apparent penchant for dangerous escapades), Lucy Newton can’t stop herself. She breaks into her mother’s study to find her spell book, looking for a simple spell to reattach her beloved doll’s appendage.

Predictably, things go south quickly and in increasingly outrageous ways, as Lucy soon finds herself facing a rapidly-growing slime-drooling slug – with no idea what to do next. Enter two wonderfully crafted secondary characters, the sentient spell book – which suddenly starts offering advice – and the neighbour’s sassy black cat. While the protagonist Lucy does little more than bounce from bungling to helpless to panic-stricken and back again, the book and cat give humour, spark and attitude to the story.

McArthur builds suspense effectively. The story kept my 4-year-old assistant book-reviewer on the edge of her bed, terrified for poor Lucy facing the revolting slug. The plot is fast-moving and fun, and will entertain the target audience of 6 to 9 year olds. While elements of the story orient towards girls, with a female protagonist and a dismembered doll creating the initial crisis, boys should get right into the chaos, slime and destruction as well.

Newly independent readers will enjoy the numerous black-and-white illustrations, line drawn by McArthur. The pictures pick up the significant elements in the story in charming vignettes. While there is a detailed and expressive illustration of the cranky old witch-next-door, some of the illustrations of Lucy lack a strong sense of character.

This is a fast-paced fantasy from first-time author McArthur, which will appeal to young readers who enjoy a little magic or a lot of mess.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

A Christmas Menagerie

A Christmas Menagerie edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780994528049

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

Christmas is a time of sharing, a time for families to gather and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the delight of a collection of short stories. A Christmas Menagerie contains twelve well-crafted animal tales, each with its own special touch of Christmas charm.

Written by both established and emerging authors, most of the stories are structured as fables with anthropomorphised animals and a moral to explore. Janeen Brian’s clever wombat discovers his perfect Christmas tree. Sophie Masson’s Barney Brown the bear has some trouble with the baking of his Christmas cake, that is, until he discovers the magical ingredients of sharing and friendship. From the environmental message of Victoria Nugent’s hatchling turtle, whose journey to the ocean is confused by Christmas lights, to the humour of A.P. Harper with Colin the sausage dog and his misadventures, children will enjoy the short stories that are perfect for an evening read in the lead up to Christmas.

I particularly enjoyed the originality of Michael Pryor’s dieting, slim, trim Santa in his lycra suit and his helper, an exhausted pig. Santa’s helper has been entrusted with the consumption of Santa’s snacks, but he just can’t eat any more cookies and milk! 

Included are entertaining stories from Gabrielle Wang, Sherryl Clark, Rachel Nightingale, J.A. Thorndyke, Michael Grey, Rebecca Fung and Michael McGoldrick.

Illustrated by Kathy Creamer, Fiona McDonald, Ingrid Kallick and Yvonne Low, the images add a touch of old-worldliness to the tales. The cover, which may not appeal to all young readers, does enhance the quaint nature of the collection and is reminiscent of times past. Lovely for sharing with children of early to mid-Primary years, A Christmas Menagerie offers the chance to dip in and enjoy each unique tale while adding to the seasonal cheer.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Two Enchanted Tales from Old China

Two Enchanted Tales from Old China retold by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by David Allan (Christmas Press) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9780994528025

Review by Wendy Haynes

There are two delightful tales in this picture book. The first tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cow Herd, is about two stars in the heavens that fall in love. Zhinu, the weaver girl, is the granddaughter of the Heavenly Empress, and she separates the two lovers. Niulng is banished to the land of mortals where he is reborn into a farming family and has no memory of the past but feels a connection with the stars. His loyal Ox is no ordinary Ox, and Niulang is guided by his wisdom in search of a bride.

The second tale, The Magic Fish Bones is about a time in the ancient country of Chin, where Ye Xian was left to slave for her stepmother and stepsister after her father dies. Though you could put this story alongside Cinderella; this story stands on its own two feet and has a totally different ending. Ye Xian has a fish with golden scales which she loves and tends too. After a while, the fish grows too big, and she releases it into a nearby pond.  Each day she calls the fish to the edge of the pond and gives it treats.  Her horrid stepmother kills the fish, but the bones are magic.

These stories will linger and would appeal to 6 – 8 years although they are in picture book form. The sentences are long and graceful. Gabrielle's other books include The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, The Garden of Empress Cassia, A ghost in my Suitcase and others.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Once upon a Christmas

 O

Once upon a Christmas compiled and edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978 0 9922838 5 8

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

How wonderful to see an anthology of Christmas stories, poems and illustrations for children produced by this fairly new Australian publisher! Dedicated to Santa Claus, the book has an eye-catching cover of a red door on which hangs a Christmas wreath; it is also flanked on both sides by decorated Christmas trees. The book is a visual treat with coloured plates by illustrators including Fiona McDonald, Stephen Axelson, Kim Gamble, and black and white illustrations by Allan Stomann, Nette Hilton, David Allan, and others.
Every page in the book is garlanded with black and white borders of ribbons with bells and mistletoe to help create a festive flavour. The book’s contributors, from both Australian and overseas writers and illustrators, are numerous.

So what of the book’s contents? Just to say that it is wide and varied. Christmas family memoirs include Isabelle Merlin’s recollections as a French child living in Sydney (she even includes a recipe for a French Christmas log cake). Dawn Meredith compares her first Christmases in England with beach visits in Australia and a Christmas in Norway with her extended family. Libby Hathorn writes of a bush Christmas. Susanne Gervay pays tribute to her late parents.

Some stories are set in blazing hot Australia; others take place in bleak and snowy overseas. Victoria Nugent’s ‘Festival Floods’, describes another scenario while Beattie Alverez’s story is set in a toy factory. Subject matter is truly varied. In ‘Season of Plenty’, Rebecca Fung tells a story from Santa’s point of view; Helen Evans writes about a pirate Christmas. Sophie Masson retells a traditional Russian Christmas legend in ‘Babushka and the Star’.

Animals feature in a number of stories such as Sue Bursztynski’s ‘The Sheepdog in the Stable’ and Sally Odger’s story about animals which can speak on the night of Christmas Eve. Duncan Ball contributes a humorous Selby the speaking dog tale, Nettie Hilton writes of a mouse.

It is gratifying to see several poems by Australia’s very talented Anne Bell, including her poignant, ‘The Donkey’, one of the very few references to Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Adele Geras’s ‘Christmas at the Homeless Shelter’ is another powerful poem worthy of mention.

There is much one could say about this engrossing anthology. It is certainly comprehensive and full of hours of reading for children aged 9+ years (and for adults, too). My only criticism is that some of the stories seem over-long. A special feature of the book is contributors’ biographies at the end of the book. There is also a comprehensive copyright acknowledgement page. Well done Christmas Press for this excellent addition to children’s literature!

Books can be purchased at www.christmaspresspicturebooks.com


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Toy Christmas

A Toy Christmas – a magical, illustrated anthology of original stories compiled by Sophie Masson (Christmas Press) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780994234063

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

With Christmas glittering on the near horizon, if it’s a little festive season magic you’re after, look no further than A Toy Christmas, the latest gem from Australian publisher Christmas Press. Compiled and edited by award-winning author Sophie Masson, the 13-story anthology features Christmas-themed tales by some of Australia’s most talented authors, both established and emerging.

Each beautifully crafted story is themed around toys that magically come to life at Christmas time. There are stories about toys that chase the nativity star, toys that realise Christmas is more about who we are with than where we spend it and truly touching tales about toys that help unite sad souls and help build friendships. There’s a story for just about every taste, whether it’s pure fantasy with dragons, adventure and pixies or more contemporary family scenarios featuring grandparents and annoying siblings. 

Illustrated in full color, the anthology is the perfect book to tap into the gathering Christmas cheer, not just for this year, but for many Christmases to come. So gather the family for a story from A Toy Christmas and let the celebrations begin.


Monday, 26 September 2016

Two Troll Tales from Norway

Two Troll Tales from Norway retold by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Ingrid Kallick (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780994234056

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This authentic retelling of two traditional Norwegian folk tales does nothing to make me like trolls or forest witches any more than I did before. Not that this was Norwegian-Australian author Lamond’s intention, I’m sure.

The first tale, The Little Old Lady from around the Bend is the story of a poverty-stricken old woman who, in her younger days, makes the mistake of bargaining with and deceiving a family of trolls. She helps a mother troll give birth and as instructed, smears some balm on the baby’s eyes.  However, she ignores the instruction not to get any in her own eyes. Her reward for helping the trolls is an endless delivery of silver coins. The catch is that she is not to spend, give away or speak of her new wealth and so she continues to live in abject poverty.

When the girl sees the troll wife stealing from a local bakery, the trolls learn she had stolen some of the magic eye balm and the troll wife spitefully blinds her in one eye. The girl then gives one of her coins to a beggar, causing her stock of silver to immediately turn to a pile of dry leaves. The moral is not to disregard instructions.

The second story, The Golden Ball of Yarn, is the tale of a woodcutter who works in the forests and one day is bewitched by a forest witch, a Huldra, who attracts his attention with a golden ball of yarn. From time to time the Huldra would spirit the man away. The man later marries, but still the Huldra tries to trick him and steal him away. In order to escape, the man sails to another land. The moral is not to be tempted by seemingly attractive offerings.

Each of these stories is aptly complemented by Kallick’s rich and detailed drawings that invite the eye to linger on the page. Here is another classic offering from Christmas Press that will leave young readers wanting to explore more enchanting international folktales.



Saturday, 24 September 2016

Eleanor, Elizabeth

Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780994234070

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This touching, evocative and thrilling tale of family, belonging, growing up and the Australian bush is as enjoyable today as when first published 32 years ago. With a new forward by the author and simply rendered black and white line drawings by Alvarez, Eleanor, Elizabeth is set in 1959/60.
It’s the story of 12-year-old Elizabeth and her family, who relocate to a remote farm that was home to her grandmother, Elizabeth. 

Eleanor struggles with the new situation, including unwelcoming classmates and an equally harsh climate. An abandoned schoolhouse sits among the farm’s old outbuildings. It’s full of webs, old junk and dark corners and when Eleanor decides to explore one day, she discovers her grandmother’s diary, written when she was just 13.

Through the diary, not only does Eleanor get to know her grandmother and the commonalities they share, but she learns about Elizabeth's special haven - a cave. It’s a spot that becomes a refuge for Eleanor, her brothers, and a new friend when a deadly firestorm sweeps the area. The fire is a dramatic high point and one that’s vividly conveyed as we follow Eleanor as she leads her small band to safety against many odds. The story ends with a gift from Eleanor's mother - a diary. It’s a fittingly touching gesture and one that brings the story to a satisfying end. 

In Gleeson’s new foreward, the now acclaimed author describes that she was suffering homesickness in northern Italy when writing her first draft of what was to be the first of her many awarded children’s books and novels.  It’s a fact that clearly influenced her vivid rendering of the Australian environment, as does Gleeson’s  revelation in the forward that she was impacted by her mother’s retelling of old family stories of regional settlement.

Eleanor, Elizabeth is more than a first novel; Gleeson says that its acceptance and success gave her the confidence to continue as a writer.
Christmas Press is to be congratulated for reissuing this Australian children’s classic under its Second Look imprint. Just as it did when first published in 1984, the story is sure to delight and resonate with a whole new generation of young readers.


Sunday, 11 September 2016

This School is Driving Me Nuts!

This School is Driving Me Nuts! by Duncan Ball (Christmas Press – Second Look publishing) PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780994234032

Reviewed by Kel Butler

When I first received This School is Driving Me Nuts!, the re-release of Duncan Ball’s plays, I pulled it out at the breakfast table, recruited my partner and the kids and started reading them together as a family. Each of us played many zany roles, quickly reducing each other to tears of laughter and causing my son to announce in that moment that he wants to be a comedian! Now that’s what I call a success story.

In this collection of plays, Duncan Ball delights with his wickedly funny use of language and character, providing something for everyone. From a comedic monologue to a play the entire class can get involved in. Duncan Ball has tuned right into the minds and imaginations of primary schoolers everywhere, getting down to their level of grossness, throwing tons of mischievous cheek and taking the everyday pun to a whole new level.

This School is Driving Me Nuts! offers hours of engagement on a group level, making this book the perfect companion for every primary school teacher and teacher-librarian. It is a fantastic way to introduce kids to theatre and plays whilst making reading time even more fun.

Highly recommended in the home and at school.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia retold by John Heffernan, illustrated by Kate Durack (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780994234049

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

Long ago, in the swirling mists of Time, there lived a mighty king by the name of Gilgamesh….

What reader, no matter their age, could resist the promise of mystery and adventure conjured by such a tempting opening as this featured in the latest offering from Christmas Press? The publisher was set up in 2013 with the express aim of bringing young Australian readers in touch with a range of rich and evocative legends, myths and folklore from around the world. In this case, it’s the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, located in modern day Iraq, Syria and Kuwait that has given rise to some of the world’s great heroic sagas, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In this thrilling and lively retelling, author John Heffernan brings to life for young readers two tales from the Epic, while the striking work of new illustrator Kate Durack, who took inspiration from ancient Mesopotamian art, perfectly illuminates the world inhabited by the heroic brothers.

In the first story, The King and the Wild Man, readers meet the brave, fierce and frightening Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. Two parts god, one part human, Gilgamesh is a tyrant whose people fear and resent him. One day the gods decide to teach the power-mad king a lesson and they create another man-god to rival Gilgamesh. The result is the rough and wild Enkidu, fashioned from a piece of clay.

News of this wild man living, who lives in the forests, reaches the king and he sends his army out to capture and deliver Enkidu to him. But the wild man is far too strong for the soldiers and easily evades capture.

After a disturbing dream, King Gilgamesh is told he will meet his brother – a star, born from the heavens, and one who will never let him down. ‘Together you will fight evil,’ the king is told.

Meanwhile, the wild man Enkidu arrives in the city to overthrow the cruel King Gilgamesh and the pair battle one another in a violent struggle that lasts all day and into the night. Finally, the king overwhelms the exhausted wild man and just as Gilgamesh is about to deliver his fatal blow, he realises that the wild man Enkidu is the brother from his dream, arrived to light his way. The king vows to change his destructive ways and the pair agree they will now unite ‘to fight against evil wherever it may be’.

In the second story, Brothers Battle the Beast, the pair does just that when they set out to vanquish the ferocious horned Bull of Heaven, Humbaba, who has been terrorising the villages of Uruk and countryside. The brothers set forth with specially made weapons and armour, in a chariot drawn by four magnificent war steeds.

The man-god brothers and Humbaba meet in a dramatic and furious life-or-death battle, featuring snorting, roaring, stamping hooves and roars that ‘shake the trees to their roots’. Eventually Humbaba is vanquished and the warriors stand in ‘a soft golden light’ that shimmers through the leaves of the forest.
Heffernan’s treatment of these epic tales results in a truly magical pair of stirring, page-turning stories that will engage and delight all ages.

Durack’s rich illustrations and Heffernan’s tight and descriptive text combine to produce what is a great introduction to the epic sagas of ancient times that also include lessons about good versus evil and the ties of family.

A great read, highly recommended.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Two Tengu Tales from Japan

Two Tengu Tales from Japan retold by Duncan Ball, illustrated by David Allan  (Christmas Press)  HB RRP  $19.99 ISBN 9780992283865                             
Reviewed by Dianne Bates                                          

Thank goodness for Christmas Press which works hard to introduce young Australian readers to legends, myths and folklore from other countries! Here is its latest offering, a lively retelling by a well-known children’s author of stories about tengu, magical beings from Japan who grant wishes to those who ask them. However, tengu are tricksters…

In the first story, ‘Kenji’s Magic Sandals’, a small boy cares for his sick, bed-bound mother. When the money runs out, Mum tells Kenji to go to Uncle Gozo to ask for medicine; she will repay him when spring comes and Kenji and his mother can sell their crops. However, after Gozo refuses, Kenji is visited by a tengu who gives him gold – but with a condition attached. Happily, it is a condition that exacts revenge – against the selfish uncle!

In the second story, ‘The Invisible Cloak’, we are introduced to Hikoichi, a sneaky and lazy fellow who meets with a tengu who has the ability to make himself invisible. Hikoichi tricks the magical being – but meets with mischief himself after he commits crimes against others. A humorous – and embarrassing -- ending to a man who deserves it!

This is a gorgeously presented book, well-designed with illustrations in the Japanese tradition which are so attractive they make you want to pour over them. In keeping with other Christmas Press folklore titles (go to http://christmaspresspicturebooks.com) the cover is presented like a series of woodblock shapes with illustrations from inside the book. These beautifully rendered illustrations are contained within blocks with fine line and wash realistic pictures. Occasionally, such as when the tengu appears – an ordinary, bearded man wearing wings and sandals – a double spread is employed. Even the fly pages in this wonderful book are interesting, with black, white and grey Japanese masks.

This is a book which will be enjoyed by all ages. Duncan Ball, David Allan and the production team at Christmas Press have done a splendid job!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France retold by Adele Geras, illustrated by Fiona McDonald (Christmas Press)
HB RRP$19.99
ISBN 9780992283841
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The fly pages of this new book by Australian publisher Christmas Press are wonderful; in black and white they show a scene which feels almost as though it is going to suck you into the story to come. 

The first story is the English author’s retelling of the well-known tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Like most re-tellings, the language is sparse, old-fashioned and straight-forward, relating how a merchant father promises his youngest and most beautiful daughter to a beast set on revenge. Belle is aghast when she first sets eyes upon the beast and declines his many offers of marriage. There is, of course, a twist at the end of the tale and when Belle finally agrees to a betrothal, she releases a spell cast by a wicked fairy.

The story of Bluebeard is the second story in this lavishly illustrated book with all its text set in illustrated frames and with full-page coloured pictures and occasional black and white sketches. Like the beast in the first story, Bluebird has a dreadful appearance – and a young woman, in this case his (unnamed) Bride. ‘His beard was of a dark blue as deep as oceans and flowed from his chin to his waist like a tumbling waterfall of hair. But he dazzled her with gifts and soothed her with kind words.’ On the eve of his departure on business, Bluebird gives his bride the keys to the palace saying that one room is not to be unlocked ‘if you value your life.’

Does the young woman use the silver key? Of course! And what she finds is horrifying. This sets in chain a series of consequences and frantic actions. 

This story was, for this reviewer, much less predictable than the first.
This is another handsome production from Christmas Press joining other retold tales such as Two Tales of Twins from Ancient Greece and Rome (Ursula Dubosarsky) and Two Trickster Tales from Russia (Sophie Masson). Its appeal would be for children aged 9+ years.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Once upon a Christmas


Once Upon a Christmas front coverOnce upon a Christmas compiled and edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press, 2014)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978 0 9922838 5 8
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

How wonderful to see an anthology of Christmas stories, poems and illustrations for children produced by this fairly new Australian publisher! Dedicated to Santa Claus, the book has an eye-catching cover of a red door on which hangs a Christmas wreath; it is also flanked on both sides by decorated Christmas trees. The book is a visual treat with coloured plates by illustrators including Fiona McDonald, Stephen Axelson, Kim Gamble, and black and white illustrations by Allan Stomann, Nette Hilton, David Allan, and others.

Every page in the book is garlanded with black and white borders of ribbons with bells and mistletoe to help create a festive flavour. The book’s contributors, from both Australian and overseas writers and illustrators, are numerous.

So what of the book’s contents? Just to say that it is wide and varied. Christmas family memoirs include Isabelle Merlin’s recollections as a French child living in Sydney (she even includes a recipe for a French Christmas log cake). Dawn Meredith compares her first Christmases in England with beach visits in Australia and a Christmas in Norway with her extended family. Libby Hathorn writes of a bush Christmas. Susanne Gervay pays tribute to her late parents.

Some stories are set in blazing hot Australia; others take place in bleak and snowy overseas. Victoria Nugent’s ‘Festival Floods’, describes another scenario while Beattie Alverez’s story is set in a toy factory. Subject matter is truly varied. In ‘Season of Plenty’, Rebecca Fung tells a story from Santa’s point of view; Helen Evans writes about a pirate Christmas. Sophie Masson retells a traditional Russian Christmas legend in ‘Babushka and the Star’.

Animals feature in a number of stories such as Sue Bursztynski’s ‘The Sheepdog in the Stable’ and Sally Odger’s story about animals which can speak on the night of Christmas Eve. Duncan Ball contributes a humorous Selby the speaking dog tale, Nettie Hilton writes of a mouse.

 It is gratifying to see several poems by Australia’s very talented Anne Bell, including her poignant, ‘The Donkey’, one of the very few references to Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Adele Geras’s ‘Christmas at the Homeless Shelter’ is another powerful poem worthy of mention.

 There is much one could say about this engrossing anthology. It is certainly comprehensive and full of hours of reading for children aged 9+ years (and for adults, too). My only criticism is that some of the stories seem over-long. A special feature of the book is contributors’ biographies at the end of the book. There is also a comprehensive copyright acknowledgement page.

 Well done Christmas Press for this excellent addition to children’s literature!

Books can be purchased at www.christmaspresspicturebooks.com

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Two Selkie Stories from Scotland

Two Selkie Stories from Scotland retold by Kate Forsyth, illustrated by Fiona McDonald (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780992283827
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Following the success of Two Trickster Tales from Russia, Christmas Press presents their second book, Two Selkie Stories from Scotland. These two magical fairytales are retold by the gifted storyteller Kate Forsyth, with stunning illustrations by the hugely talented Fiona McDonald.

In The Selkie Bride, Forsyth applies her gift to the tragic tale of a shape-shifting Selkie whose skin was stolen and hidden by the man that fell in love with her, thus keeping her from returning to her home in the sea. Her anguish and heartbreak at being confined to land is later assuaged by her daughter who discovers the skin, and facilitates the Selkie’s escape.  The cost of this choice is the separation of mother and child.

In the Kingdom of the Seals is a mesmerising tale of death and reinvention. A seal hunter is drawn down into the sea after he wounds a bull. He becomes as one of them; views their life and the beauty of their existence. But only he is capable of healing the wound he inflicted. Again, choices must be made. His old life is buried and a new one is born.

These two stories have mythological origins drawn from Scottish folklore. They are something far more magical than fairytales. This is due to Kate Forsyth’s insightful and poetic retelling, combined with the beauty of Fiona McDonald’s equally insightful illustrations. These two creators have links to Scottish ancestry. This connecting thread adds a personal and authentic element to the translation.

The print and pages are delicate as is the content and overall design. This is the second publication by the new Christmas Press, with two more books planned for release before the end of the year. Collectors, be on the alert, as these productions are works of art in every sense.


Friday, 4 October 2013

Interview: Fiona McDonald and David Allan of Christmas Press

Author/artist/designer Fiona McDonald and artist/illustrator David Allan have joined with author Sophie Masson, to create Christmas Press, a new publishing house for children’s books. Their first publication Two Trickster Tales was launched late September. Anastasia Gonis gets an insight into the hows and whys of this union, and attempts to learn about these two creative people.

An extended version of this interview was featured in the October 1 2013 issue of Buzz Words.

You are an author/artist/designer. Can you tell us something about yourself and your work?

F. I’ve always loved making things: pictures, dolls and stories. I hated school and dropped out in Year 11. I went to the city to seek my fortune but enrolled at Julian Ashton’s Art School instead where I spent the next four years rigorously training to be an artist.

I love to make pictures with an enigmatic narrative; people say ‘why is she doing that?’ Or ‘why are they there?’ and my answer is - ‘Well, I don’t know, it’s a mystery’.

Now I am a director at Christmas Press but I also do layout, concept design and am a writer and illustrator, and hope to do both of those in the near future.

You are a new illustrator. What opened the door to this new area of art for you and at what other occupation do you work?

D. I've had a love for drawing ever since I was a young boy. I completed a Diploma in Fine Art at TAFE and have held Fine Art exhibitions of Landscapes and Portraits in Oils. I've always wanted to be an illustrator though, and after working in bookshops and as a graphic designer in the past, I felt like now is the time to pursue my dream career. I've been heavily influenced by classical illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin (especially for Two Trickster Tales), along with Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha and more recent illustrators such as Alan Lee and William Stout. Meeting Sophie and Fiona and getting so much encouragement from them has helped my progress immensely.

How did you come to join forces with David Allan and Sophie Masson to create Christmas Press?

F. Some years ago Sophie and I were lamenting the passing of the age of the luxury Christmas picture book. In the days of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac publishers produced a gloriously illustrated children’s book in time for Christmas. Nowadays most Christmas books seem to be the very tired retelling of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

At the time we said to each other how much fun it would be to have our own publishing house. We’d call it Christmas Press in memory of those antique books.

It was at the beginning of this year (or even the very end of last year) that we decided we’d really do it and set ourselves up as a publishing house and produced a beautiful book. David Allan had come on the scene by then and his illustrations were exquisite and we thought this a great project for him to do to help showcase his work.

In a continuing unpredictable climate that publishers are currently experiencing, what is it about Christmas Press that will make it stand apart from other established publishing ventures that are struggling?

D. We'd like to think that there is still a lot of love for very traditional picture books in a style reminiscent of Arthur Rackham and other illustrators from long ago. Also we feel there is an untapped market in picture books that specialise in traditional fairy tales and the like.

New ventures in the current changing climate of children’s books need passion, commitment and
money. Do you feel confident that all these needs will be satisfied with the work you all propose to do?

F. Yep! I never worry about money, it always materialises when needed. This is a passion and we don’t expect it to make a fortune. As long as we can keep bringing out new titles I think we’ll all be happy. I have lived on an artist’s wage for most of my adult life. You do without a lot of things but you have the fulfilment you need instead. I think more people need to think about their lives this way, follow their hearts and cut up the credit card. No proper job is secure so what do you have to lose?

Traditional fairytales have long been lost to the world of children’s books. Your work also has its magical side to it. Did this influence your decision in any way to join Sophie and David in recreating new stories and characters from the old?

F. I think the three of us share a visual sense of aesthetic. We all love old picture books, fine technique, great draughtsmanship. We also all love fantasy stories, fairy stories and have a strong nostalgia for childhood.

The printing costs for Two Tricksters from Russia were funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Can you explain what this is and why you chose this method for funding? 

D. Online Crowdfunding involves seeking to pool the collective money of individuals via the Internet, to fund efforts such as ours. We basically thought we'd have a crack at crowdfunding after seeing the success of other people’s ventures that had been funded in this way. Through networking our friends, colleagues and relatives we were able to very nearly cover the cost of the print run of our book.

Beauty, colour and imagination are part of both worlds that you’re involved in now. In your opinion, is this combination a participating factor in the success of the traditional fairytales that the group is now producing?

F. Absolutely! I personally feel there has been a death of beauty in children’s books and toys in the last few years. Everything in life is becoming homogenised and bland from food to television.

My toys, mainly dolls and dragons, are selling really well as if people are starving for something a bit different. I think the same is happening in the world of books. We are already discussing and planning adding new characters to Granny Fi’s Toy Shop. I just have to find more hours in the day!

What type of media did you use for the artwork in Two Trickster Tales and how does the illustrative style differ from what you are used to?

D. For the artwork I used pen and watercolour on paper. The style for this book is pretty much an extension of what I normally do. Prior to starting the project, Sophie introduced me to the work of the great Russian Illustrator Ivan Bilibin whose work I had somehow missed before and now love. His use of a clean line and areas of flat colour style has been a huge influence on the look of the illustrations I produced for Two Trickster Tales from Russia.

You can read Buzz Words' review of Two Trickster Tales in the post below.

Two Trickster Tales from Russia

Two Trickster Tales from Russia retold by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Davis Allan (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $22.95 (buy direct from publisher, or form bookshops listed on site)
ISBN 9780992283803
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

To all the people that have loved classic fairytales and longed for their resurrection, take heart!  With its first publication, Two Trickster Tales from Russia, Christmas Press has returned the classic tale to new generations of readers with the promise that classic tales from all over the world will be reborn in a fresh and exciting fashion. This is a new enterprise with artist David Allan making his illustrative debut, who with designer/artist/writer Fiona McDonald and author Sophie Masson make up the trio that form Christmas Press.

This beautiful book contains two tales from Russia. In Masha and the Bear, a simple trip to the woods to collect berries leads Masha into a bear’s clutches. But she is clever and resourceful, and soon finds a way to get home. With The Rooster with the Golden Crest, a rooster that refuses to listen to logic, finds himself in the clutches of a hungry fox, not once but three times. He is saved from ending up as dinner by his fast-thinking friends, a cat and a thrush.

The illustrations are presented in colour, sepia, and black and white. Delicate lines and intricate details return with full page pictures, borders and double-paged spreads. The design and layout is superb and the language has been adapted well to weave in with and complement the entire structure of the book. The book can be read or listened to with equal pleasure.