This'll sleigh 'em

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Jane Doonan chooses books to share with your class at Christmas

The Night Before Christmas A pop-up by Robert Sabuda Text by Clement Clarke Moore Simon amp; Schuster pound;19.99

Albert Le Blanc By Nick Butterworth Collins Children's Books pound;9.99

The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas By Ronda and David Armitage Scholastic Press pound;10.99

The Nutcracker Retold by Berlie Doherty Illustrated by Ian Beck Doubleday pound;10.99

The Christmas Mystery By Jostein Gaarder Illustrated by Sarah Gibb Translated by Elizabeth Rokkan Orion Children's Books pound;12.99

Babushka Retold by Sandra Horn Illustrated by Sophie Fatus Barefoot Books pound;10.99

Three Wise Women By Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Lynne Russell Frances Lincoln pound;5.99

Nonsense Christmas Rhymes By Richard Edwards Illustrated by Chris Fisher Oxford University Press pound;4.99

Now's the time to start shopping forbooks to enjoy with your pupils before the end of term or for them to take home to read during the holidays.

Literature meets engineering in The Night Before Christmas, as seen through the eyes of a mouse. Clement Clarke Moore's traditional poem springs to life in a highly collectable pop-up book designed by Robert Sabuda. Read it aloud first, then let the pupils revel in the ingenuity of Sabuda's constructions, including a head-on charge by Santa's eight reindeer. This would also make a spectacular present for a nimble-fingered child, a GCSE graphics student or an adult who has everything. "Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away, all!" before the bookshop sells out. You won't regret it.

Over in the toyshop is Albert Le Blanc, Nick Butterworth's large loveable polar bear with a lugubrious expression. He isn't sad - it's the way he's been made - but the other toys still put on a show to cheer him up. Alas, they lack talent. Sally the hippo tops the bill of disasters when she flattens Albert in an unrehearsed arabesque, but saves the day with a spontaneous kiss. Young children with sharp eyes will spot familiar toys making guest appearances on the shelves: Elmer, Kipper, Paddington, Bob the Builder and more. The overall effect is expansive, with artwork in Butterworth's clear-line style and luxurious colour, and the layout allowing plenty of unworked space around the action.

Next, to the lighthouse. Don't miss The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas by Ronda and David Armitage. Mr Grinling is retiring and plans to spend his last working Christmas on the rock with his dear wife and great-nephew George. Bad weather threatens to spoil everything. This picture story, which marks the end of a series spanning 25 years, makes a grand finale: frames of all sizes, strips of panels, "photos", and die-cuts partner the text set in blocks, speech balloons, and captions; words appear in typeface and cursive script. There are some marvellous paint effects as waves spray over windows, snow falls and gulls dive like Spitfires. Colour beams off the page.

The Nutcracker, ETA Hoffman's classic story, appears in a sumptuous illustrated retelling. Ian Beck comes close to creating a theatrical performance on paper. There are big scenes on full-page frames and text pages decorated with panels busy with action; add free floating figures, sprinklings of stars and whirling snowflakes. In appearance, the borderline between human participants and toys is so fluid that real life and fantasy elements become indistinguishable. Beck's graphic style mimics dry point etching and increases the old-fashioned effect of the pictures. For pupils, what better introduction to Tchaikovsky's ballet? It's magical.

Time to head off to the stable. The perfect context for reading Jostein Gaarder's new abridged edition of The JChristmas JJMysterycould be during the opening of the Advent calendar, but it's not too late to catch up. There is more than one mystery within the book's covers, with its framing story set in the present and 24 episodes which go time-travelling back through 2,000 years. Sarah Gibb's monochrome illustrations show that small is beautiful. Scenes in miniature head each chapter, and characters in vignettes make a spritely pilgrimage across the pages. Top primary pupils would enjoy this story, and could make a lovely time chart in symbols for the classroom wall. It's also a valuable addition to any secondary library.

Babushka, here retold by Sandra Horn, is about the perils of housework and the redeeming power of love, illustrated by Sophie Fatus in a naive folk art style, with shapes tending towards the spherical, and colours towards the lyrical. Babushka means well, but even a passing angel is suspected of having dirty feet. While having a rest before dusting her canary, Babushka dreams of a baby in a scruffy stable full of cattle. What a challenge! Off she bustles with presents, to improve his lot. By the time she arrives she has given everything away, but Mary knows what has happened and what matters most.

Mary Hoffman's Three Wise Women, now in paperback, is a new approach to the Magi story. Wiser than they can ever know, three poor women on foot follow the rising star. Their gifts make prefiguring symbols for the life of Christ - a loaf of bread, the skill of storytelling, and a kiss. Lynne Russell's painterly illustrations are focused on the figures. In strong colour, they are moulded in effects of firelight, and starlight, and the metaphorical light of integrity.

Let's end with recitations and a singsong from Richard Edwards' Nonsense Christmas Rhymes, illustrated in an equally anarchic fashion by Chris Fisher, using uninhibited colour. Read Santa's letter to his reindeer, warble "I Saw Three Drips" and a new version of "Silent Night", sympathise with King Wenceslas who ends up in A and E, and ponder on the perils of sitting on holly.

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