'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 9 November 2014

Guest Post: Beattie Alvarez

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Beattie Alvarez, who shares how compiling and editing the stories for Once Upon a Christmas, published by Christmas Press, stirred wonderful memories of time spent with family during the Christmas Season.

A brown box sits on the doorstep.

I open it and, oh my! Christmas has come early this year!

Nestled in the box are thirty shiny, beautiful, magical copies of Once Upon a Christmas – and my name is on the cover!

After almost a year of hard work, I get to sit down (with a cup of hot chocolate) and read it. That is, once I can tear my eyes away from the red door with the decorated Christmas trees, the wreath, and the lovely old fashion brickwork.

The idea came to the Christmas Press team in late 2013. And they picked ME to edit and compile it! Sophie Masson, David Allan and Fiona McDonald were my bricks through the whole process, writing stories, madly drawing most of the illustrations, holding my hand when things got hard. I couldn’t have done any of it without them!

We started work immediately, gathering stories, approaching authors and illustrators, putting the call out on Facebook for emerging authors to submit.

One of the most exciting moments for me was when I messaged one of my ALL TIME FAVOURITE AUTHORS on Facebook, just to see if she was interested. Better still, was when she replied immediately – with a story attached to the message!

Very soon we had over thirty authors and illustrators on board.

Santa's Workshop by Fiona McDonald

Working on Once Upon a Christmas brought lots of memories back for me.

Christmas as an adult isn’t nearly as fun as when I was younger and the whole family would gather at Grandma and Grandad’s house – including my Dad AND my stepdad.  It was truly a family affair, it didn’t matter that Mum and Dad had separated years before, or that Mum had a new partner and a son with him. On Christmas Eve we’d all go for a drive to see the Christmas lights around Armidale.

Before bed, Grandad would read or tell the grandkids a story.

I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to find my Santa sack filled with everything to keep me from waking up the adults too early.

Grandad would be ‘Santa’ handing out the presents to each person, reading the card, and waiting until it had been opened before moving on to the next one.

It also brought up memories of the Christmas I had in the Philippines when I was nine.

I was so homesick! It was so hot! But they let me stay up REALLY late, first to go to my first and only Midnight Mass. I didn’t understand a word of what went on that night. We were all very dressed up – my dress looked like something from a beauty pageant, I felt so grown up! The service was in Tagalog, and my Tita (Aunt) couldn’t translate for me because we weren’t meant to talk.

We took a tricycle home, I remember looking at the muscles on the tricycle rider’s legs, thinking he must be so strong to move all four of us just on a bike. It wasn’t bedtime when we got back – it was feast time! The table was filled with all the ‘traditional’ dishes: lechón (roast pork in a yummy sauce), rice, fish, spaghetti bolognaise, tuna fish sandwiches, pancit (noodles and seafood), and the desserts! Ube (glutinous purple yam cake), Cassava cake (from the cassava fruit), Halo-halo (beans, jelly, coconut milk). I went straight for those, using the excuse that I was vegetarian, but really, I just wanted the sweets.

In the morning Mum called from Australia, which was great! I was no longer homesick; there were cousins to play with, presents to unwrap, card games to learn with Mama Yaya (Grandma) – sitting in front of an electric fan of course!

Putting together Once Upon a Christmas has been an amazing experience. Getting to make a book filled with Christmas stories, some real, some fiction, but all magical, is something I’ll never forget.
It also reminded me that it was never about the presents. It was about the presence. It’s about who is around to share these moments and make these memories. And who is no longer with us.

Once Upon a Christmas would have been the book that Grandad read to the grandkids – great grandkids now – on Christmas Eve. Since he’s no longer here I will take over, read the stories, and make Christmas magical again.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Lots of love,

Beattie Alvarez

P.S. Come one, come all to meet the authors and have an early Christmas celebration!
Friday November 14, 6 pm, Balmain Library, Sydney
Saturday December 6, 1:30 pm, The Children's Bookshop Beecroft, Sydney

Title: Once Upon a Christmas
Compiled & Edited by: Beattie Alvarez
Publisher: Christmas Press, $24.99
Publication Date: November 2014
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780992283858

Available at all good bookshops!