Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Get Ready to Track Santa!

Each year at this time, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) runs a Christmas-themed programme on it's special website that will track Santa on his journey from the North Pole around the world as he delivers presents! This began in 1955 when a Sears department store ran an ad in the paper with a telephone number that children could ring to talk to Santa. However, the phone number was misprinted, and instead Colorado Springs Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was inundated with calls. The commander in charge on that Christmas Eve instructed his staff to give each child the current location for Santa Claus. And so, a modern tradition began. NORAD took over from CONAD in 1958, handling all the calls and with the advent of the World Wide Web, a special site was set up that allows you all to follow Santas' travels on Christmas Eve.
In the meantime, you can go on the site where you can explore the North Pole, find interesting facts and play games. The countdown is rolling!
This is something I look forward to every year. And I'm sure your family would love it as much as I do. Here's the link so you can 'Track Santa':
http://www.noradsanta.org/

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gift Giving...."one thing to wear, one thing to read"


As you might imagine, I am a HUGE believer in giving books as gifts. The  Four Gift Rule... has always been a mainstay in my life. But choosing those gifts takes time and thought, and frequently a little advice. While I love giving Christmas (or seasonal) themed books is always a delight, they do tend to have a limited application. January 1st rolls around and these books tend to get put away for the rest of the year. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that you probably want to give something that 'lasts' longer; lasts year-long.
Robert Dunbar gave a wonderful listing in yesterdays' Irish Times; the best of the best from the past year. Other reviewers, authors and childrens' literate enthusiasts have also been giving their thoughts on the matter (all excellent, I have to say), so I thought, why not Fallen Star Stories? Below is a glance at my favourite books throughout the year that you might wish to consider. ENJOY!

For the little ones (or all the family to share):

The Day The Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt/illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
I think we're all in consensus over this one. The follow up to The Day The Crayons Quit is just as hilarious and just as thought-provoking as it's predecessor. The crayons, having given up on their usual assigned tasks have decided it's time to make their way back home in hopes of having taught us all to think outside the (crayon) box. Letters and cards are sent announcing their impending arrivals. Of course, one of them takes the long way round.

Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif
Out this year in paperback, I LOVE this book. The story of a little girl who dances to her inner music. But when people are looking at her, she can't hear the music any longer and is too shy to continue; until she meets a new friend, whose songs inspire her again. From the author/illustrator of Oliver (which I also highly recommend), this book is joyous, poignant and just right for those of us who lose our inner music from time to time. And, it is simply beautiful; gorgeous illustrations that make you want to look at ths book again and again and again....

A Great Big Cuddle:Poems For The Very Young by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Poems that bring joy, laughter and understanding into everyones' day are just the thing! Rosen has the gift of reaching the very young (and very young at heart. Riddells' illustrations ooze with charm, while giving an even more genuine quality to the text (if that's possible.) Big print, bold pictures and exceptional in every way; we all need a bit more poetry to help us tell our story and this is perfect.


How The Library (NOT The Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown
Quirky, zany and absolutely marvelous, this contemporary adaptation of Rapunzel sees her take charge of her own destiny with clever rhyming text, colourful illustrations and a little help from her friends. No ivory towers here; Rapunzel lives by herself in a tower block, alone and sad and completely unimpressed when her prince comes along. The lift has broken, so it's up to her friends to climb up to help her. When she receives, not a 'happily ever after', but a job offer, Rapunzel quickly gets to work and changes her life. Just love it!

Aliens Love Dinopants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort
We all need a bit of silliness in our lives. This, the latest in the Underpants series, gives us exactly that. Those underpants-loving aliens  (from Aliens Love Underpants) have returned, and this time they are after the underpants of the dinosaurs (from Dinosaurs Love Underpants). The aliens crash land in a jungle with absolutely no idea that they are about to discover the biggest stash of underpants EVER! But the dinosaurs aren't going to give their pants up that easily. Hilarious fun!


Goodnight Like This by Mary Murphy
This beautiful bedtime book is the perfect way to settle down with your little ones at nighttime. Subtle colours and lots of snuggly, snoozy bedtime action as all the animals settle in for the night will make everyone in the house ready for sleep. I love it! And you will, too. Enough said!







Pierre The Maze Detective: Search for the Stolen Maze Stone by Hiro Kamigaki and IC4DESIGN
This book is actually for older children (8+). Like the Where's Wally books, this works a bit like a
'find-the-object' book. But, there is a consistent plot-line throughout with maze-detective Pierre in search of Mr X, the dastardly thief who has stolen the Maze Stone. The Maze Stone will turn all of Opera City into a maze unless Pierre and his friend, Carmen can stop Mr X in time. As they find their way through 15 elaborate, magnificently drawn mazes, Pierre and Carmen journey through a fantastic worl of tree-tops, underground cities,a hot air balloon race and much, much more. There are hours of puzzles to solve, clues to an extra mystery to solve. WOW!

Newly competent readers :
Daisy and the Trouble With Piggy Banks by Kes Gray
Daisy explains all the troubles you will encounter in life, much to the dismay of her mother. This year, she has returned to explain the trouble with piggy banks, geting herself into more trouble than before. When her best friend, Gabby turns up with a brand new scooter, Daisy just has to have one, too; but they cost A LOT of money. So, she and Gabby come up with a money-making scheme. The Daisy books are written with a genuine childs' voice, much humour and a lot of heart. I just love Daisy and know the young readers in your house will, as well.


Claude: Lights, Camera, Action! by Alex T. Smith
I have nothing but glorious things to say about the Claude series of books! When Mr and Mrs
Shiny-shoes go out for the day, Claude and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock discover a film set just the other side of the fence. When the two lead actors are injured, Claude and Sir Bobblysock are asked to take their place. But will the addition of a wig turn our heroes into film stars? Well, of course it will. Who doesn't want to be a star?Another brilliant book in the Claude series! (note to all the grown-ups out there; where your day has been a little too much, the Claude books are the remedy for your woes.)

Pugs Of The Frozen North by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre
The race is on the frozen Top of the World! Facing snow trolls, sea monsters and hungry yetis makes this a dangerous business, but it only comes around once in a lifetime. If you win, you will receive whatever your heart desires. The competition is fierce and deadly. But Shen and Sika have an edge that all the contestants don't have; 66 pugs! That's 264 paws powering their sled...so let the race begin! Fantastic characters, filled with imagination and incredible amounts of fun!



That bit older:
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico
This has to be my favourite book of the year. Fedora and her mother are wolf wilders, returning pet wolves of the Russian aristocracy to their natural wolf-like wild state; to be wary of human, to hunt and to fend for themselves. But the days just prior to the Russian Revolution are dangerous ones. When Feos' mother is taken prisoner by the army, Feo must go on the run and to find a way to rescue her mother. A book with adventure, heart and wild beauty; a book about standing up for what you love and believe in. The presentation of this book is stunning, with sumptuous illustrations throughout.

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
This is the type of book that everyone wants to receive as a gift...and everyone wants to give. Brilliant story-telling comes with memorable characters and beautiful illustrations to create a contemporary adventure story with an old-fashioned feel. Archer B. Helmsley is the young grandson of the intrepid explorers, Rachel and Ralph Helmsley. His father is a lawyer and his mother spends most of her time trying to keep Archer safe from his inherent 'tendencies' that would make him follow in his grandparents footsteps. When his grandparents go missing on an iceberg in Antarctica, Archer concocts a plan, along with friends, Oliver Grun and Adelaide L. Belmont, to rescue them, bringing them back home in glory. It's a very good plan. But nothing goes quite the way Archer expects it. 


Kapheus Air by Marguerite Tonery, illustrated by David T. Wenzel
In this, book two of the Kapheus series, we return to the fantasical  realm of light.
“You must return… ssss, tick tock goes the clock tick tock, ssss. You must return to Kapheus, Children of the Light. All hope lives or dies with you. Ahh, tick tock goes the clock, tick tock…”
But while Elisa has been longing to return, brother Jamie really doesn't want to go back. But Eilsa cannot fulfill her destiny without Jamie. And the arrival of the giant boy, Setanta and the last shape-shifter in Éire make Jamies' decision more difficult. Beautiful fantasy adventure! (Also, please read Kapheus Earth if you haven't already.)

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde
 Eloquent, thoughtful and thought-provoking dystopian novel set in a thoroughly believeable future, after the enviromental disaster has happened. Upon the disappearance of her master, Letta is promoted from apprentice to wordsmith. Her job in Ark is to collect and dispense words to the residents there from the List (language of Ark) of 500 words they are allowed. But when Letta discovers a sinister plan to rob the people of  all language, she realises she must take action to save, not only the people, but culture itself. Truly unique and mesmerising.


Teens and YA:
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
What if you weren't the one who's supposed to save the world from zombies or vampires or whatever
is coming with all its' apocalyptic mayhem? What if you're just a normal kid who wants to graduate and go to the prom before someone blows up the school...again? Mikey is a kid just like that. But he and his friends find themselves living as 'collateral damage' to the evnts and actions of the 'heroes'. Sometimes, you just have to be able to find the extraordinary in your own ordinary life. Ness brilliantly riffs on all the typical YA genres in this novel that is stunning and considerate. The best!

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine
Iris' estranged and wealthy father, Ernst is now seeking to contact her at the end of his life....a man she barely remembers. Her manipulative mother has declared war in order to gain control of Ernsts' vast wealth and exceptional art collection, using Iris as a pawn in her game. Her best frien Thurston is halfway across the world and everything Iris knew, about life and about herself, is about to go up in flames. Written with honesty and integrity, this is a most welcome return for Jenny Valentine, one of the best authors of teen/YA literature. A wonderful novel about love, friendship, family and deception....with a little arson thrown in.

The Accident Season by Maura Fowley-Doyle 
The Accident Season is here; with broken bones, electrical faults and near misses. The knives will all be locked up, every corner will be padded, but accidents, it seems are unavoidable. The Accident season has been a part of Caras' life as long as he can remember. But how much is accident, and how much is something more sinister? Why is Caras' family so cursed?And, with the deaths of so many predecessors behind them, who will be next? Fantastic psychological drama/horror with a powerful punch.



The Door That Led To Where by Sally Gardner
AJ Flynn has failed all but one GSCE exam and his future is looking pretty grim. But, when he lands
an apprenticeship at a posh London law firm, quite by surprise; things begin to change rapidly. As he's cleaning out the office, AJ finds an old key with his initials and birthdate engraved on it. Determined to find the door that the key belongs to, AJ begins an unbelievable journey that takes him into London of the 1830's. He discovers a mystery that gives him the ability to change his life in the present day.  As he takes his friends along with him, they all discover that their lives are worth far more than they ever expected, that redemption is possible and that their lives can have meaning and purpose....they just have to decide for themselves where they belong. Brilliant time-flip novel that couls only have been written by Sally Gardner.


I could go on, But I risk boring you. For more recommendations, please do read Robert Dunbars'  "Cream of the Crop" article and don't forget the New York Times Notable Childrens Books of 2015. The Links are below:
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/cream-of-the-crop-30-great-books-for-children-and-teenagers-1.2463156

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/books/review/notable-childrens-books-of-2015.html

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jolabokaflod...the Icelandic Tradition

Each year at this time, Iceland celebrates the winter season with an unusual and most excellent literary tradition, Jolabokaflod (which translates as the "Christmas Book Flood".) In Iceland, the very best Christmas gift to give and receive is a book. This has been the most sought after present for decades.
Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association explains;
"The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday. Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it's the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland."
With a strong literary tradition that is centuries old, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country worldwide, with 5 books published per 1000 people. A catalog of the book titles on offer is sent out to every household. The majority of books are sold from late September through early November in anticipation of Jolabokaflod. 
Oh, and they give physical books, not e-books.
I can't imagine a nicer way to spend Christmas Eve than to be tucked in with a good book.
http://www.npr.org/2012/12/25/167537939/literary-iceland-revels-in-its-annual-christmas-book-flood