Monday, 18 November 2013

A book is for life, and also for Christmas.

I was an absolutely brilliant sleeper as a child.  Honestly, you just have to ask my Dad, who is willing to tell how I slept through the night from about the age of 6 weeks, which was in stark contrast to my brother, whose eyes resolutely refused to close for about the first decade of his existence.

Sadly, my children take after their uncle rather than their mother.  I have often railed against the unfairness of this, but God/the fates/Mother Nature don't seem to be listening.  That said (touching all of the wood in the house, and even venturing into the garden to touch some more), BabyM seems a distinctly better sleeper than his siblings so far.  Long may it continue.

However, there was one night of the year where I didn't really sleep at all. Christmas Eve.  On one memorable occasion, when I was about 13 and therefore really old enough to know better, I slept for half an hour and woke for the day at half past midnight.  I think I had a sleep after lunch and Top of the Pops, but was essentially awake for the duration.  This was the worst year, but up until I was 24 and had a child of my own, I probably only slept for 3 or 4 hours in total on that night of all nights.

With this in mind, when A and C were tiny I instigated the Christmas morning book bag.  They have a large linen bag with an embroidered Father Christmas, which is filled with books.  The idea being that, if they should wake at 4am, they can read until Daddy gets up.  Daddy is always the last up on Christmas morning in our household, due to the fact that he is neither a child, nor does he approach Christmas as a child.  He is allowed to sleep until 6am, and then is piled on, by children, wife, and this year, as an extra special treat, baby.  We tend to prise his eyes open until he is forced to accept the inevitable.  It always takes him what seems like about 3 years to put on his dressing gown.  I have taken to buying myself a book, and placing it in our joint stocking, so as to discourage him from suing me for divorce every Boxing Day.

The Christmas book bags have always gone down quite well.  A is far too flitty on Christmas morning to read fiction. She hardly ever reads fiction anyway, and Christmas morning is really not the time to encourage deep, protracted reading sessions. C loves fiction, so does tend to get some in his Christmas bag, but generally they are filled with books with small sections, or activities which can be abandoned at will when Daddy eventually gives in to familial peer pressure, and shuffles, bleary-eyed, downstairs to get the camera out.

Books which have been successful over the years are as follows:

  • For toddlers and pre-schoolers, Nick Sharrat's mix-and-match books are Christmas morning stalwarts. Our family favourite is Mixed Up Fairy Tales, but there are several different titles available.  Children have to make up their own stories by choosing from several different parts of sentences.  So you might have "A handsome prince kissed a frog, and was chased by a bowl of porridge." For non-readers, the pictures tell the story, but this is good for a sibling pair where one can read and the other can't, as it's quite easy to read.  C used to love A reading it to him, as he got to take part too, by choosing which parts of the sentence he wanted.
  • Also by Sharrat is my all-time fave You Choose. The sticker version would be a good choice for Christmas.  Utterly suitable for non-readers, and plenty to look at. There are even festive characters within the book - see if you can spot Father Christmas, or the turkey dinner.

  • For slightly older children, Usborne sticker books are fabulous.  A has particularly enjoyed the Sticker Dolly Dressing series over the years, although this is somewhat fiddly, so probably not ideal for those with poor fine-motor skills, as the frustration of ripping a beautiful skirt is not to be underestimated.
  • Also by Usborne, the puzzle adventures are worth looking at for children who can read independently.  They are not difficult, but are sufficiently challenging to hold interest. This version is particularly attractive, and hard-backed, so durable for carting about on your adventures.

  • For older children, a cook book is generally well-received.  A enjoys planning her future baking exploits whilst tucking into her customary Christmas breakfast of chocolate orange.  This year she has this one. I got in in The Works for £12.  Although not marketed at children, there are photographs for each step and it's very clearly written and extremely comprehensive.  She also has the Horrible Histories Spies book, as, for her birthday treat, she is going to the exhibition based on the book at the Imperial War Museum.  A tie-in book based on a future expedition is always a nice plan - one year I bought an Usborne art gallery sticker book, which we took with us on a trip to the National Gallery, and searched for all of the paintings depicted in the stickers.  As I recall A enjoyed this *almost* as much as I did ;)

  • For teens, in my experience, the most popular book ever is The Guinness Book of Records. I think this is probably down to the fact that it allows them to look at detailed photographs of bodily parts that they would not otherwise have convenient access to.  This is not to say that the book is unsuitable, but there are numerous photos of heavily tattooed or pierced folk, or those who are about the length of a normal classroom ruler.  For teens, with an obsession to be normal, these pictures can be quite comforting (OK, my nose is a little big, but I don't have  tattoo of a spider web covering my entire face and torso, and I am more than 30cm tall). Apparently Ripley's Believe it or Don't is along similar lines, and goes down a storm. 
  • I always used to have Jean Greenhowe knitting booklet at Christmas, but I accept that I was not, in many ways, a typical teen...
I always finish the job with a magazine.  Generally one I refuse to buy during the rest of the year, because they come adorned with plastic tat and are full of adverts for more plastic tat.  But for the rest of the year, they have the Pheonix comic, and when you've gorged on prime fillet steak all year, sometimes you just want a burger. And a chocolate orange, and a few Ferrero Rocher.  And perhaps some Pringles...

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