Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

I was a master (or perhaps mistress) or organisation this year, and started buying Christmas gifts when the first nip of Autumn was barely in the air. However, unfortunately, my organisational skills were used up before I made a note of where I had actually put the presents which I squirelled away in anticipation.

Cut to Christmas morning. C has finished opening his presents and seems very happy with his haul. I can't help wondering where his bag of Lego Star Wars books from The Book People had gone to. I looked all around "The Christmas Room" aka the spare room aka Grandad's room and there were no more presents to be found. I have been looking on and off since then. This morning I was looking under our bed for escaped gift wrapping to recycle, and happened upon the Lego Star Wars books. Success! I also found The Lego Ideas Book which A, C and I plan to look at later, to learn how to make the ice cream van on the front cover. Mrs Organisation had totally forgotten she'd bought this! We also found Shirley Hughes's The Christmas Eve Ghost, which I had planned to read on Christmas Eve. That would have been nice, had I not completely forgotten about it!

So we read it this morning. The depiction of 1930s Liverpool seemed so completely real. It was a brilliant book for starting discussion; A and I had a long chat about how different washing would have been back then. The family are Mam, Bronwen and Dylan, who move to Liverpool from Wales after Da is killed in a mining accident. Mam takes in washing from the rich part of town, which she transports around in a pram, often leaving the children alone in the house as she does this.

Next door live the O'Riley family. Mam says "Good morning" to the O'Rileys, but no more - the children are forbidden from talking to them. They don't go to Chapel, but to a different church, which Bronwen is forbidden from looking in. This was a great discussion starter too. A managed to work out eventually that the Welsh family were Chapel- attending low church Christians, and that the O'Leary family are Irish Catholics. A doesn't understand the distinction too well, since going to any kind of church these days is a rarity. She had to be questioned for quite some time before she remembered that she was a Catholic, and then was very confused as to why "all the people just didn't get on with each other". Well, quite.

In the end Mrs O'Leary comes to the rescue when the children are left alone and frightened, and from then on offers to help out when Mam has to leave the children in future. They share a Christmas cuppa and have a nice chat. I blubbed shamelessly at the end, as the children ask Mam to remember the O'Learys in their prayers, and she does so. It's an absolutely wonderful tale of goodwill to all men. Definitely the best new story I've read for a long while, but then Shirley Hughes is a genius. It's a great investment - good for toddlers as the pictures are both comforting and detailed, and great for historical discussion with older kids.

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