Box clever for Christmas

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
The Best Christmas Present in the World. By Michael Morpurgo; iIllustrated by Michael Foreman. Egmont Children's Books, pound;4.99.

How Many Miles to Bethlehem? By Kevin Crossley-Holland; illustrated by Peter Malone. Orion Children's Books, pound;9.99.

Home for Christmas. By Sally Grindley; illustrated by Karin Littlewood. Frances Lincoln, pound;10.99.

Santasaurus. By Niamh Sharkey. Walker Books, pound;10.99

How Santa Really Works. By Alan Snow. Simon Schuster, pound;10.99

The Nutcracker Ballet. By Viola Ann Seddon and Jean Mahoney. Walker Books, pound;14.99.

The First Noel: A Christmas Carousel. By Jan Pienkowski; paper engineering by Helen Balmer and Lois Bulow Osborne. Walker Books, pound;9.99.

The Usborne Book of Christmas Stories. Edited by Anne Finnis; illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Hayward. Usborne Publishing, pound;6.99

The Book of Christmas. Compiled by Fiona Waters; illustrated by Matilda Harrison. Chrysalis Children's Books, pound;14.99

Snowman in Paradise. By Clement C. Moore; illustrated by Michael Roberts. Chronicle Books, pound;11.99

The Night Before Christmas. By Clement C Moore; illustrated by Ted Rand. North-South Books, pound;4.99

Jane Doonan chooses seasonal books destined to appeal well beyond Twelfth Night

The books in this Santa's sack are chosen either because they place the value of experiences above things wrapped in shiny paper, or they have a life beyond a few weeks. The Best Christmas Present in the World recounts how the narrator, a young man, finds the last letter written by a soldier to his wife from the trenches of the Western Front, describing the Christmas truce of 1914. The young man tracks down the soldier's wife, now a confused old lady in a nursing home, and by his very presence fulfils her deepest wish. Sensitively told and atmospherically pictured, this story could be shared any time of the year with top juniors. Practice before you read it aloud: I'm not sure anyone could manage the conclusion without a wobble in the voice.

How Many Miles to Bethlehem? is a handsome picture book which could be also used as a ready-made nativity play. Participants, including angels and the Star, each give a direct voice to the story. Peter Malone's illustrations recall the early Italian Renaissance style, with figures dignified and formal, and colour as full as a newly painted fresco.

Home for Christmas, illustrated in a swish and swash of vibrant water paint perforated with light, is about a homeless boy who wonders what it would be like to have a family. He sleeps in a stable where Mary and Joseph take refuge one night; they share his shelter, and he shares their joy in the baby born there. The boy's thoughts and painted presence are central to the narrative, and by these means the familiar gospel event achieves added poignancy. An exploration, with Years 1 to 3, of the theme of what it means to belong, could lead to a thoughtful discussion.

Reception and Year 1 children like living with dinosaurs and hearing playful language: Santasaurus opens with Ollie, Molly and Milo (who wants to meet Santa and have a sleigh ride) writing to Santasaurus. Shopping with Mumosaurus follows, then the traditional preparations, until Christmas Eve, when Santasaurus lives up to his reputation. Are they all content on Christmas morning? Yesosaurus, they certainly are.

Years 3 and 4 will appreciate how intrepid explorer Alan Snow has travelled to the farthest reaches of the Arctic Circle to uncover top secret information for How Santa Really Works. Here are the answers to 16 questions about Santa's international operations. Understandably, to get on top of all the disclosures, plenty of reading and scanning has to be done of text, diagrams, plans, maps, timelines, charts and pictures. This book also provides a dazzling demonstration of how visual design communicates fiction and fact, and is an invaluable teaching resource for that alone.

Novelty books? Yes, please. Anyone over the age of about eight can stage The Nutcracker ballet thanks to the toy theatre created by Viola Ann Seddon and Jean Mahoney. Within a blue box which forms the theatre itself, lie a booklet giving Tchaikovsky's story, stage directions, production tips, scenery and backdrops, characters to move around, and a CD of musical selections. While The Nutcracker Ballet Theatre would give immense pleasure to any aspiring young dancer, a classroom copy could be inspirational.

Start saving big cardboard boxes for small group projects and planning some pas de deux with the English and music departments.

When the covers of The First Noel are tied back-to-back, the book forms a carousel, a beautiful object complete with a loop for hanging it up. Five three-dimensional tableaux of white silhouettes, set against a resonating scarlet background, show the Christmas story, from the Annunciation to the arrival of the Wise Men.

Of this year's anthologies, The Usborne Book of Christmas Stories is a chunky resource for reading aloud to Years 2 and 3. Fifteen stories, some old, some new and witty, decked with Ian P Benfold Haywood's line drawings, each explore a different aspect of Christmas. More formal in approach, The Book of Christmas is a handsome gift-book collection of poems and short stories: something special for independent readers to enjoy.

Fasten your seatbelts, and take off with Snowman in Paradise. 'Tis the week after Christmas when a frostbitten snowman flies to a tropical island for a year's holiday, thanks to a magical bluebird who overheard his wishes.

Pleasures of all kind await him - and anyone who opens Michael Roberts'

stylish picturebook, with its neat plot, unstereotypical, lovable, and wholly admirable hero, witty text that romps along in verse, dazzling artwork and flawless design. There's the potential for personal discussion and writing, picture-making with collage and computer, reading the original text and discovering about gentle parody.

A new edition of The Night Before Christmas, illustrated in traditional style by Ted Rand, provides perfect comparisons and contrasts. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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