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

Friday 21 December 2018

Interviews: A Very KBR Christmas 2018!

It's time to pour some rum-flavoured fun onto your fruit mince pies and settle back for a good read - because you love stories, right?

As always, our intrepid team of reviewers has tried to leave no page unturned in order bring you the best of another bountiful year of bedazzling children's stories.

Many have made our hearts soar and our emotions bloom, just like a great Christmas tale. So spend a moment or two with us as the KBR team share their fondest festive recollections and recommendations.

Which fond childhood memories of Christmas do you try to maintain and perpetuate each year?
Dimity: The magic of surprising someone with a gift they never expected, and fruit mince pies. Wherever I’ve lived on this planet, I have endeavoured to make homemade (mum’s recipe), brandy infused fruit mince pies because for me, they are the very essence of Christmas.
Tania: Advent calendars are a staple of my own childhood, and my kids haven’t missed a year since they were born (they’re now 18 and nearly 16!). My fondest childhood memories involve the sparkle of tinsel, so there’s always a house brimming with decorations. Every year I tell myself we won’t do Christmas stockings, but I’ve so far failed to relinquish that tradition! Probably the most poignant memory tradition I began for my own children is gifts from their departed grandparents. They used to appear at the front door of our house, tied with angel wings. Now they just magically appear under the tree.
Shaye: We make our own countdown Christmas calendar by colouring paper Christmasy colours, cutting them up into strips and making rings that link together. We hang them up, and each evening, we tear off one ring! I used to love doing it as a kid, and now my kids love it, too!
Josephine: We erect the nativity scene each year, instead of a tree.
Amie: Waking up too early and eating too much food!
Anastasia: Surprises under the tree no matter how small and inexpensive - especially hand-made ones for all the family, is a memory that I treasure from my childhood and one I have tried to maintain throughout my life.
Cherri: Christmas carols playing at home.
Karen: Our Christmas tree always had a mixture of homemade or special decorations that told a story - each year we added a decoration - we continue this tradition each year.
Sarah S: Watching Christmas carols on TV on Christmas Eve, with Mum's Christmas cake and coconut ice to nibble on.
Penny: Baking Christmas goodies (and everyone taking a turn to stir and make a wish!) and a Christmas story every night of December.
Leanne: I love the singing of carols while putting up the Christmas tree, there has to be some Bing Crosby for it to feel like Christmas.
Sarah W: I love a good Christmas Tree. It has to be big and covered in decorations. Even bigger and better than the one I had as a child, which I loved. I also love Christmas carols. I used to sing a lot when I was young and for me, Christmas was always about the carols. I now have a tradition of putting up the tree with my kids each year, with sing-along carols blaring in the background…

What is the one line from a children’s Christmas inspired / themed story that will remain with you forever?
Dimity: Ah, so many memorable lines that created indelible images for me as a youngster however, the one I cherish dear is: To see something, you have to believe in it. Really believe it. …You can’t see something you don’t believe in, from A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig. Belief creates possibility, like the possibility that Santa could actually deliver toys to every girl and boy on earth in one night. Powerful stuff.
Tania: As a child of the hot Australian Christmas, I was ever enchanted by the snowy festive scenes dominating Christmas stories at the time. I was besotted with Clement C Moore’s A Visit From St Nicholas, especially this line: The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. It epitomised the magic of Christmas … so much so, I now have an entire collection of picture books featuring the poem. Footnote: I was 25 when I experienced my first white Christmas. It was everything I knew it would be.
Shaye: I'm a big fan of How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. There's a really lovely part that goes something like: Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!
Josephine: And suddenly in two tongues one song filled the night sky - epitomises my prayer for peace from Christmas in the Trenches.
Amie: In honesty, I'm still waiting for one that will remain with me forever. I hope that doesn't sound grinchy!
Anastasia: I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. It’s from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This shows us that kindness, goodwill, friendship, togetherness, sharing and love, is a lifestyle, not something you put on just for a day once a year.
Cherri: The whole Little Drummer Boy song/story
Karen: There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - it makes you appreciate the small things in life especially at Christmas and with your family.
Sarah S: Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Penny: The children were nestled, all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
Leanne: Twas the night before Christmas, when all though the house. Not creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Sarah W: I hate to be a cliché but Twas the night before Christmas…

If you could be any character from your favourite children’s Christmas story, who would you be and why?
Dimity: Rudolf because I love the championing of an underdog er, deer. But if we’re allowing a Christmas inspired children’s movie story into the mix, I’d be Bryony Shelfley, Wrapping Division Grade 3 Christmas Elf from the Giftwrap Battalion in the Arthur Christmas movie because I am rubbish at wrapping presents and she's not.
Tania: Rudolph. 100 per cent. No explanation needed.
Shaye: I would love to be a Christmas elf (from any Christmas story) working in Santa's workshop. I feel like it would be a chaotic thrill. Plus, there's sure to be a killer party after such hard work! And then you get most of the year off, right?
Josephine: The Grumpy Shepherd because he had his faults (as we all do) but he still found a way to believe in Hope.
Amie: I think it would be Macca the Alpaca of Matt Cosgrove's Macca's Christmas Crackers because he gets to have lots of crafty fun with his friends and discover the true spirit of giving. Also, everyone in that book just looks so happy!
Anastasia: The Shoemaker from The Elves and the Shoemaker, for he believes at the end of each day, that he has done his best and goes to bed with a light heart. Also, the theme of hard work is always rewarded, is a positive belief that we should all hold close to our hearts. Both are guides that I carry with me always.
Karen: Ruby from The Naughtiest Reindeer by Nicki Greenburg - as part of one of our Library's Christmas Story times I performed & dressed up as Ruby the naughtiest reindeer - Ruby is Rudolph's sister, Santa took her along to deliver presents when Rudolph was sick - it was so much fun being naughty with over 100 children delightfully interacting with the story - there is no way to describe that feeling.
Sarah S: As an adult I would choose JRR Tolkien's Letters From Father Christmas as the children's Christmas book I love the most (whereas when I was a kid it probably would have been Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!). Letters From Father Christmas (AKA The Father Christmas Letters) is a compilation of letters and drawings that Tolkien wrote to his children over their childhood (from the 1920s to the 1940s). They were completely in character as Father Christmas, with unique handwriting, illustrations, and stamps. It's an amazing book.
Penny: I reckon Ruby, from Nicki Greenberg's The Naughtiest Reindeer, knows how to enjoy herself at Christmas!
Leanne: There are so many lovely stories but I like the children characters in the stories. These children have hope, belief and joy. I look forward to recapturing that childlike spirit again at Christmas time.
Sarah W: As a child I had a book called My Big Christmas Book, filled with Christmassy short stories and poems. There was one story, The Little Angel with Silver Hair about a little angel who was always getting into trouble. As punishment she was sent to Earth, tasked with making someone happy. She ends up decorating a Christmas tree with stars from her dress and strands of her silvery hair and giving it to children who deserve to be happy. I always resonated with this story and felt like I was the angel, who meant well but could never quite get things right. I loved the idea of being able to make someone happy the way she did, just using what she already had.

Santa needs help to write his TBR list. What must-read-recommendation from your 2018 reading list can you give him?
Dimity: Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee would fill Santa's heart with love and joy and make his eyes rain.
Tania: The Book of Trees by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, How Did I Get Here? by Philip Bunting, Lift-the-Flap Periodic Table by Alice James and Shaw Nielsen.
Shaye: There are so, so many! But here are my top five: What the Woods Keep by Katya De Becerra, After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson, Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, Girl on Wire by Lucy Estela and Elise Hurst and Sorry Day by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler.
Josephine: Picture Book: A Stone for Sasha by Aaron Becker Middle Grade Fiction: See You in the Cosmos Young Adult Sci Fi: In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black
Amie: Dragon Post by Emma Yarlett, Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc and Sophie Johnson Unicorn Expert by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Anastasia: I recommend My Australia written by Julie Murphy, and illustrated by Garry Fleming. It is a stunning portrait of our wonderful country that Santa should read and share with as many people as possible. This glorious expose of all that is Australia is pictorially a work of art and one of my favourites for 2018.
Cherri: Everything I've Never Said by Samantha Wheeler
Karen: Girl at Sea by Lucy Courtenay (YA Fiction)
Sarah S: Imposters by Scott Westerfeld (YA fiction)
Penny: If he hasn't already read The Endsister, by Penni Russon, then he really must!
Leanne: Mamie by Tania McCartney, Another Book About Bears by Laura & Philip Bunting, Are You Scared Darth Vader? by Adam Rex, Ada Twist's Big Project Book for Stellar Scientist (Activity Book) by Andrea Beaty, Room on our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple The Hole Story by Kelly Canby
Sarah W: Wow this is an impossible question! There have been so many fantastic reads this year. For Middle Grade I’ll go with Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. My stand out picture book is Midnight at the Library by Ursula Dubosarsky and Ron Brooks. And a special shout out to the children’s poetry anthology Boat of Stars.

Santa’s elves commission you to contribute to their new book of Best Loved Authors and Illustrators. Whom would you insist they include? (list up to three)
Bob Graham, Philip Bunting, Demet Divaroren. Who writes these questions? How do I stop at three!
Tania: Anna Walker, Gus Gordon, Marc Martin
Shaye: Naming just three is super hard, but here goes: Gus Gordon, Lucy Estela and Simon Philip.
Josephine: Aaron Blabey
Amie: Rebecca Cobb, Jess Racklyeft and Tamsin Ainslie
Anastasia: Bob Graham and Shaun Tan. But separately, I would list authors: Sophie Laguna, Zana Fraillon and Sue Whiting. Illustrators: Bagram Ibatoulline, Levi Penfold and Axel Scheffler.
Cherri: Only three! Aaaargh! Dimity Powell, Christina Booth, Penelope Pratley
Karen: Hazel Edwards, Jackie French and Enid Blyton
Sarah S: Only three?! Argh! If I have to narrow it down to only three then I guess it would be: JK Rowling, Jackie French, Quentin Blake. If I could add others, then I'd also include people like Mo Willems, Michael Rosen, Bob Graham, Shirley Hughes, and Alison Lester.
Penny: Anna Walker, Sally Morgan, Freya Blackwood
Leanne: Mem Fox Emily Gravett Beatrix Potter
Sarah W: Another impossible question! Based on votes from my kids, I’m going to go with Jackie French, Jessica Townsend and John Flanagan.

Name one Christmas essential, you simply cannot live without.
Dimity: Fruit mince pies – homemade. And Christmas carols. (Equivalent to one if you combine eating and singing or baking and playing, as I do!)
Tania: Christmas cake doused in Champagne and topped with a book!
Shaye: Family. Everything else is optional!
Josephine: Loved ones
Amie: My lovely little family and chocolate coated almonds! If it must be one I best pick the family!
Anastasia: My sugarless boiled Christmas Fruit cake with extra sherry added is one essential that makes for a very Merry Christmas and fabulous eating at any time of the year!
Cherri: Helping others
Karen: A good Book - Every year, Santa leaves me a book for Christmas under the tree - sitting down on Christmas Day with a book I can get lost in and enjoying a glass of wine.
Sarah S: Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas without little kids around and sharing their excitement. See also point one: special Christmas nibbles!
Penny: Definitely the stories. It is a time of magic and dreaming for children, and Christmas stories are a beautiful way to conjure that sense of wonder.
Leanne: Lots and lots of Christmas Carols.
Sarah W: To me, Christmas means family, so as long as I have family that’s all that matters. Although a Christmas tree and carols really top it off (see question one).