Friday 15 September 2017

Once upon a Christmas


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!

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