Bookwagon has been building up to Jolabokaflod. As I write, I’m aware of the TBR pile to my left hand side. The pile of books upon the wagon (actual wagon) is balanced precariously. However, a busy run of book orders via online ordering and personal enquiries, has interrupted our reading routine. Then there are book gift subscriptions. My order book is full of Post-it notes and ideas as I seek to fulfil the individual reading preferences of our young readers. This task fills a lot of my thinking day – what a responsibility!
What is Jolabokaflod?
Traditionally, Iceland, one of the most literate nations, celebrates Christmas Eve through a Jolabokaflod, i.e., ‘a book flood’.
During the advent season leading up to Jolabokaflod, Icelandic householders make their reading choices from an annual catalogue distributed throughout the nation. On Christmas Eve, gifts of books are exchanged, and the population settles down to read throughout the night.
I wish in far away childhood New Zealand that I’d known such a tradition existed. Christmas Eve was an unbearably long night, punctuated by constant checks to spot Father Christmas, or reindeer tracks.
Yet somehow, the idea of Jolabokaflod in New Zealand doesn’t seem quite so appropriate. My family and friends in that hemisphere are settling into their summer holidays, the cricket season and camping at the beach. Jolabokaflod demands early starlit nights, the snapping of chill at the toes, candlelight and snuggling tight.
Looking ahead to recommendations
What would Bookwagon include in its Jolabokaflod reading list? When a librarian friend asked, I replied with the backlog of adult books that has amassed over the year. Yet, as the eve approaches, I know that I will be reading children’s books. That TBR pile lures me in.
Emma Carroll’s spring short story release, ‘When We Were Warriors’, a WWII short story collection is near the top. We love her books. It is joined by ‘The Day I Was Erased‘ by the wonderful Lisa Thompson. Menace Maxwell learns what life would be like if he’d never been born. I’ve hidden Lucy Strange’s ‘Our Castle by the Sea‘. Mr Bookwagon read her début The Secret of Nightingale Wood and loved it so much, I felt hard done by! This is my chance to experience this writer! (All titles will be available to buy at this indie bookseller in the early spring.) There are many more to come!
One I tried earlier
Also released in the early spring is The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage. It arrived at Bookwagon HQ yesterday. I unwrapped it and brought it upstairs with a cup of tea. Some hours later, after Mr Bookwagon’s team had defeated this week’s rivals, I closed my book. It is one of the most original and captivating children’s novels I have read. To build a story of grief, guilt and friendship within a backdrop of the Roswell alien sightings of 1947 demonstrates such creative vision and purpose!
To some recommendations
Jolabokaflod conjures up images of snuggling and warmth, protecting yourself from the winter chill, while being completely immersed within a reading wonderland. That’s what books offer.
In ‘The History Boys‘, Alan Bennett wrote:- ‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something- a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things- which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’
In the warm isolation of winter, I recommend titles which touch and navigate. Swedish writer Jakob Wegelius created a voice of reason and initiative in Sally Jones. Bookwagon urges your family to discover her through the internationally award-winning The Murderer’s Ape. We suggest you will need to know more of her story, so will have to turn to The Legend of Sally Jones.
Snuggly socks winter titles
From the safety of your Christmas Eve sofa, you will hurtle into icy adventures with:- Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s superb The Way Past Winter, and the gothic, lamp tinged thriller, The Clockwork Crow. We suggest the Shakespearian scented Snowglobe and the ice tinkly splendid Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.
These are mesmerising stories, crafted by exceptionally skilled writers. C.S. Lewis said, ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ In our commitment to recommending and selling books that we have read and loved only, we have near abandoned reading adult books. Therefore, we can state that the children’s writers whose works we have read and love write books as good, if not better, than their adult writing counterparts.
Touching the heart and the head with words and pictures
Orlando Weeks was a guitarist and vocalist with The Maccabees. HIs sophisticated picture book The Gritterman is a journey around a life. The Gritterman has received notice. As he prepares for his final run on the icy B2116, he reminisces about his life, the seasons, and plans ahead.
Bear and Wolf encounter each other in a silent winter forest. Each is exalting in the quiet, still, cold. Cautiously, the step together, walking around the frozen lake, that come summer will offer them new opportunities. Daniel Salimeri’s picture book is wise, pitch perfect and respectful.
Around the world Moon works its magic upon the lives of creatures small and large. Jellyfish, puffins, turtles, penguins and tree frogs are a few to which Britta Teckentrup draws our attention in her rapturous, rhyming picture book.
Richard Johnson tells a story of courage and friendship in his glorious wordless picture book, Once Upon a Snowstorm.
From the past to future possibilities
Older readers, and their adults will love Mud. This 1970’s Thames houseboat set story, depicts a family’s sinking and survival. I could feel the Christmas chill, and became completely determined for the family’s futures.
Similarly, I needed Izzy to rally and find her footing in Ewa Jozefkowicz’s superb début novel, The Mystery of the Colour Thief. Izzy aligns her future to the survival of a struggling cygnet, as family and friends fracture about her.
In a future of possibilities or a past undiscovered sit two different works. One is by a newer novelist, the other by ‘Germany’s J.K. Rowling.’
Storm Witch is the first in a trilogy by Ellen Renner. Storm struggles to find her place within the traditions of her island. Her naming and her elements do not fit any particular calling. When it is time for her choosing, she is the focus of a tremendous struggle. Why do her arrows travel further than other marksmen? Why does Dolphin call to her despite her fears? What does Fire have against her?
Cornelia Funke, of Inkheart fame, offers a Dystopian story for older readers in The Glass of Lead and Gold. This ‘Themse’ set novella is oddly reminiscent of ‘Bleak House’ with elements of Sally Gardner’s magnificent Maggot Moon. Can Tabetha keep her secret mudlark glass treasure hidden? Who can she trust in the mean London streets?
To Mike Teevee
At the beginning of the month, the National Literacy Trust revealed that 1 in 11 children do not have books in their home. That number extends to 1 in 8 within those children who receive free school meals. Every child deserves access to a fully functioning, professionally led public library. Yet research shows that ‘the more books a child owns, the more likely they are to do well in school and be happy with their lives.’
Reading at home, seeing their adults read, living in an environment where books are valued and enjoyed, sets a child up for life.
As Roald Dahl said, in the guise of Willy Wonka, ‘So please, so please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set* away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.’
Happy reading, happy Christmas, happy Jobokaflod.