Shirley Hughes writes and illustrates the very best children’s picture books, and has done so for a long time. She has no need for aliens or angels or burps or underpants or even Santa on his sleigh to draw you into her books. She recognises the very real drama and passions and humour to be found in the everyday life of an ordinary small child. We know those dramas from our own lives, so her stories resonate with us all, and that’s why books such as ‘Dogger’ and ‘Aflie Gets In First’ have become true classics.
Working in a bookshop in the 1980s I had the perk of sometimes keeping (you’re supposed to ‘dispose of’, but there’s nothing to stop you disposing of them to yourself!) faulty books once the title page had been ripped out to be sent back to the publisher. That is how I got my bound upside-down copy of Lucy And Tom’s Christmas.
That book has been treasure brought out for my own three daughters every Christmas throughout their childhoods, and I’ve just enjoyed reading and looking at it yet again. It reflects, and maybe even moulded, the family Christmases of my childhood and of my children’s childhoods – stirring the pudding and making wishes, snipping and gluing and colouring to make decorations and cards, choosing just the right present for Mum and Dad, Granny and Grandpa, hiding those presents, letters written to Father Christmas and sent up the chimney, carol singers, baking, the Sally Army band playing carols, decorating the tree, putting out parcels, hanging stockings, opening stockings, going to church in the show, relatives (and old Mrs Barlow who lives all by herself) for a big lunch, present unwrapping
… and then the thing that absolutely strikes a chord with any young family, when a tearful Tom has had too much and is ‘rather cross’ and needs to go out for a dark walk down the street with Grandpa, ‘just the two of them’. In our family such a walk or other form of removal to calm down is known as ‘dehorribalising’!
Then Tom goes home and the tree is lit, and Christmas feels complete and just right.
So, what about the new book, Alfie’s Christmas? Could it possibly be as good as Lucy And Tom’s one? Well clever clever Shirley Hughes has managed to make it different from that beloved earlier Christmas book, but still exactly, Chrismassily, right. Alfie is a distinct character, of course, so it’s lovely to see important neighbours such as the MacNallys being included. And Annie-Rose has her own storyline. But comparing the two books also brings home that our Christmases have changed in subtle ways. The importance of family and food, the anticipation of giving and receiving presents much the same.
But we don’t wait until Christmas Day to light the tree these days. Now the tree is decorated in the run-up to Christmas and put in the front window for all to enjoy. We tend to post a letter to Father Christmas rather than send it up the chimney. We’ve got Dad, and even Grandpa, in the kitchen now!
It is a lovely book, and I urge you to watch this youtube of Shirley talking about it, and drawing it.
Do you have a favourite Christmas book without which Christmas isn't really Christmas? Please tell...! And Happy Christmas!