Cobweb Christmas – The Tradition of Tinsel






Cobweb Christmas

Cobweb Christmas











Cobweb Christmas- The Tradition of Tinsel

Shirley Climo

Jane Manning

HarperCollins, 2001

32pp., hbk.,



Tante is so little she has to stand on a stool to climb into bed and so old she can’t count all the Christmases she has seen.  She lived at the edge of a pine forest in Germany in a tiny cottage with her canary, her cat and her dog.  Beside the cottage was a barn with a donkey, a goat, a rooster and a hen – so she had all she needed.

Usually Tante wasn’t too fussed about having a spic and span house but at Christmas time when the days were short and the nights long, she cleaned her house from top to bottom and corner to corner sweeping even the tiniest cobwebs and their inhabitants from the rafters.  She would chop down the best Christmas tree she could find and decorated it with sugar cookies and gingerbread and put special presents under it for her animals.  She invited the village children in to see her tree and share its goodies – there was something for everyone including her animals, except the spiders who had all been swept out the door.

But still Tante wasn’t really happy – all her life she had heard about the marvellous things that happened on Christmas Eve like animals talking or bees humming carols. So she sat down to wait for the Christmas magic but soon fell asleep so she never knew whether it happened or not.  She certainly did not hear tiny little voices begging to be let in out of the cold – but Kriss Kringle did so he opened the door a crack and in went all the spiders who had been swept outside.

And the next morning Tante woke to find that Christmas magic had really happened…

Based on an old European folktale, Shirley Climo and Jane Manning have brought this story to the 21st century in a superb retelling with charming illustrations.  Tinsel – originally shiny strands of brass or copper – has been part of traditional Christmas decorations since the end of the 19th century as people tried to bring light and sparkle into their homes at a dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Anyone who has seen a cobweb dipped in dew in the early morning and gleaming as the sun catches it can easily make the connection between the spiders’ work and the sparkly loops of foil we use today.

This is a story worth tracking down to add to your Christmas collection – well-written and adding just a bit more to the story of this special time it will be one to read every Christmas Countdown.

Gris Grimly’s Tales from the Brothers Grimm

Gris Grimly's Tales from the Brothers Grimm

Gris Grimly’s Tales from the Brothers Grimm










Gris Grimly’s Tales from the Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Margaret Hunt

Gris Grimly

Balzer & Bray, 2016

288pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99


Way back when, fairy tales involving all sorts of terrifying, evil creatures that were all eventually defeated by the powers of good were told to children as a way of exhorting them to make the right choices and stay on the straight and narrow.  

In 1812 German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began gathering and publishing the tales in a collection that eventually spanned seven volumes.  Right from the beginning there was criticism of their content because even though they were marketed as ‘children’s tales’ they were deemed too gruesome for children and changes were made so that some of the scarier elements were softened, such as making the wicked mothers of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel in stepmothers (an image which modern stepmothers still battle.) Over the years, more and more changes have been made with the myriad of interpretations and reprints until we have the more acceptable versions we have today.

But in this collection Gris Grimly, (an apt name) has faithfully reproduced the original text of forty one tales, some familiar and some not-so, and adorned them with his own inimitable artwork. “The result is a Grimm collection unlike any other, set in a world that is whimsically sinister, darkly vivid, and completely unforgettable.”

This is probably not a collection  that you would pick up and read to a Kindy kid as an introduction to fairy tales or a before-the-bell time-filler but it could be one to give a slightly older child who is craving the horror stories being read by older siblings or peers. It might also be the collection that you share if you are doing a comparison of versions of the same tale and how they have changed or been changed or if you are investigating childhood of different eras and want to look at the literature of the times and the purpose for it.  

Scary for some, sweet for others.

Cinderella’s Sister and the Big Bad Wolf

Cinderella's Sister and the Big Bad Wolf

Cinderella’s Sister and the Big Bad Wolf












Cinderella’s Sister and the Big Bad Wolf

Lorraine Carey

Migy Blanco

Nosy Crow, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99



Once upon a time (although quite recently in this version), Cinderella lived with her stepmother Mrs Ugly and her three stepsisters.  But this isn’t a story about Cinderella.  It’s about the youngest Ugly sister, Gertie.  Unlike her mother and sisters who lived up to their name, Gertie was kind and gentle and very hard-working.  While Cinderella lazed around and did nothing, Gertie did all the chores of the original story.

Gertie’s niceness was the cause of great shame and despair in the Ugly family and so she was hidden away, not allowed to go anywhere with them.  So when an invitation comes to attend the Grand Ball, there is no question of Gertie going – unless she can prove that she can be bad and mean. But to be bad and mean will take lessons so she is sent to the Wicked Queen who is on her way to deliver a poisoned apple to Snow White.  But unable to help herself, just as Snow White is about to accept the apple, Gertie warns her that it is poisoned.  The Wicked Queen is furious and immediately sends Gertie home to her very angry mother.  Gertie’s pleas for a second chance see her protecting Hansel and Gretel from the Wicked Witch and again, sent home in disgrace. It is not until she meets the Big Bad Wolf who is determined to eat Little Red Riding Hood that her chances of going to the ball improve.

This is an hilarious twist on a range of familiar fairytales with a most delicious ending.  The bright, trendy illustrations bring it into the 21st century and into the world of today’s young reader.  They will delight in revisiting characters they’ve already met and seeing a whole new side of the Cinderella they know and love.

Apart from being fun to read for its own sake, this would be an ideal story to use as part of an investigation into perspective because not only is the story told from a different character’s point of view, bringing it into modern times offers a range of new possibilities too. Thus it will have a broader appeal than just the very young who are fairytale fans

If you are looking for a new fairytale for the Share-A-Story guide, this might be the one.

We Wish You a Ripper Christmas


We Wish You A Ripper Christmas

We Wish You A Ripper Christmas










We Wish You a Ripper Christmas

Colin Buchanan & Greg Champion

Roland Harvey

Scholastic Australia, 2013


We wish you a ripper Christmas

A full-bore ripper Christmas,

A deadset ripper Christmas

And a snappy New Year!

There is something about Christmas in Australia that inspires authors and illustrators to take traditional, well-known northern hemisphere songs and put a unique Aussie twist on them.  We Wish You a Ripper Christmas, which belts along to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, is another example. Taken from the chorus of a previous song on their earlier book and CD Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas the authors (aka Bucko and Champs) have created a new story that is perfect for sharing around the tree on Christmas Eve.

High above the farmhouse out in the bush, Santa Wombat is heading our way.  He has his list of who-wants-what in his hand to check it when out by the windmill, disaster strikes!  It flutters off on the breezes and without it no stockings can get stuffed.  Santa Wombat searches high and low for it while gangly emus play cricket with the red kangaroos and koalas hang tinsel and Christmas tree lights. Dingoes, galahs, even the possums are all part of the cast but the list is nowhere to be seen.  Then suddenly…

Accompanied by Roland Harvey’s iconic illustrations, this is a great romp through Australia’s countryside that will appeal to young and old alike.  With a CD included you just know that there will be a new version of the more familiar song being sung this year, particularly as it has a karaoke track.  Buchanan and Champion have been creating Christmas songs for Australian kids for a long time and this is a fantastic addition to the repertoire.

The Greedy Dog

The Greedy Dog

The Greedy Dog









The Greedy Dog

Rosie Dickins

Francesca di Chiara

Usborne Picture Books, 2015

pbk., 24pp., RRP $A12.99


Dog is always hungry and his thoughts are always about food.  Even though he had already had a slice of steak, half a ham and a whole string of sausages, he was thinking about his dinner.  In the market town it is market day and his nose leads him to the butcher’s stall where there are all sorts of delicious doggy delights – in particular, a big juicy bone that is irresistible.  Carefully, he sneaks up and snatches it, hightailing it out of town before anyone can catch him. 

Delighted with his daring and his success, he runs until he comes to a river and the cool water reminds him he is thirsty and needs a drink.  But as he bends over the water, he sees another dog with a bone, fat and juicy and bigger than his.  He is determined to have it…

This is a retelling of The Dog and his Reflection, a fable by Aesop that dates back hundreds of years.  Written in an entertaining way and brought right up-to-date with lively, colourful illustrations it provides the platform for a discussion about being content with what we have as well as a springboard to other fables, their format and messages.  Are stories meant to entertain us or educate us, or is there room for both?  It could be the start of having even very young students start looking below the surface for the juicy bones beneath – the message that the writer is trying to help us understand.

But even without the philosophical discussion, it just a lovely story to read aloud to our youngest readers.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…


Cinderella Stories Around the World

Cinderella Stories Around the World

Cinderella Stories Around the World











Cinderella Stories Around the World

Cari Meister

Carolina Farías, Valentina Belloni, Polona Kosec and Eva Montanari

Picture Window Books, 2015

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A16.95


It is said that every major culture in the world, with the exception of the Australian Aboriginal Peoples, has a version of Cinderella in the traditional storytelling collection.  In this book, Cari Meister brings together four of these – the traditional Cinderella that most children know from French writer Charles Perrault; Little Burnt Face from the Micmac tribe of North America; Yeh-Shen from China; and Rhodopis from Ancient Egypt.  Each story is illustrated by a different artist with each style being unique and bringing something different to the words.

An internet search for “Cinderella stories” brings up many hits demonstrating the popularity of this story as a vehicle for investigating stories and cultures from afar and it provides a fascinating insight into how the basic premise of the story we know so well and the lessons it teaches has been interpreted across countries and throughout time.

This is part of a series of books that view popular fairy tales through a multicultural lens- the others being Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Rapunzel – that provides a different entry point for students to not only study other cultures but also the fairy tale genre.  What does the left-behind glass slipper become in Ancient Egypt and whose fairy godmother is a fish? What are the common threads that link the stories, and given that fairy tales were first shared as didactic stories, what is the universal message that elders want the youngsters to know?

There is scope to use this book across the school. 

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas










The Night before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore

Richard Johnson

Random House 2014

pbk., 32pp., RRP $A16.99




“Twas the night before Christmas

When all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a mouse…”

Are there any more recognisable words than these at this time of the year?  This poem, written by Clement Clarke Moore 192 years ago, stirs the imagination of generation after generation and every child should have at least one copy in their library.  This one, beautifully illustrated by Richard Johnson in a very traditional way, is perfect to introduce children to the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer. The gentle colours and timeless imagery will make it a favourite version.

At this time of the year there are many books published that have a Christmas theme but this one has proven its popularity and if your library doesn’t have a copy then this is the one to get.

This Little Piggy Went Singing

This Little Piggy Went Singing

This Little Piggy Went Singing










This Little Piggy Went Singing

Margaret Wild

Deborah Niland

Allen & Unwin, 2014

hbk., 24pp., RRP $A19.99


This little piggy went singing

This little piggy stayed home

This little piggy had noodles

This little piggy had none

And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.


In a whimsical twist on the traditional rhyme Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland have combined to bring us this charming book to herald in the festive season for 2014.  Whether it is out singing Christmas carols, posting a letter to Santa, and partying it up or staying home reading a Christmas story, making decorations and putting them up, each little piggy has a wonderful time in the days before the BIG day, even the one who has none because it’s been made into a necklace by a mouse or shared with a feathered friend.  And they all come together for something special on the very last page.

 But this is more than just a take on a tale – each piggy has a different role on each page and so young readers can pick a favourite and follow their adventures all the way through the story.  There is also a trend of activity throughout – the first little piggy is always out of the house doing something Christmasy; the second stays at home doing something special; the third piggy has something to eat and the fourth does not – but it doesn’t matter because there’s a delightful explanation as to why not.  And the fifth little piggy makes a cacophony of noises all the way home that young ones will love to join in with.  Picking the pattern is as much fun as picking the piggy! Can you work out how Deborah Niland might have mapped out her illustrations so each piggy did something different each day?

 It’s also an opportunity to talk with the children about the traditions they recognise and which have endured over time as well as what happens in their house in those busy days and compare and contrast the various activities.  While the original rhyme has been in English folklore since 1760, Margaret and Deborah have brought it right into the 21st century, giving it a richness that will ensure it continues to endure.

 This is a delightful way to herald in the Christmas Countdown – 24 books, one a day till THE day – and I can’t wait to share it with my little ones.  It’s sparkly, glittery cover already caught their eye as it waited its turn in the pile so I know it will be the first in our countdown calendar.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Once Upon A Timeless Tale

Once Upon a Timeless Tale

Once Upon a Timeless Tale









Jack and the Beanstalk

Retold by Margrete Lamond with Russell Thomson

Illustrated by Andrew Joyner

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95



Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Retold by Margrete Lamond with Russell Thomson

Illustrated by Anna Walker

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95



The Princess and the Pea

Retold by Margrete Lamond

Illustrated by Mitch Vane

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95



The Ugly Duckling

Retold by Margrete Lamond

Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95


Henny Penny

Retold by Margrete Lamond

Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95



Little Red Riding Hood

Retold by Margrete Lamond

Illustrated by Anna Pignataro

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.95


These are indeed timeless tales, those traditional stories that are handed down from generation to generation and which we expect our students come to school already knowing (although that is often a misconception). These are the original pre-Disney version of these stories told way back when, retold by Margrete Lamond and beautifully illustrated by some of the best illustrators for children, bringing them right into the world of the 21st century child and a new generation.

While there may be a perception that fairytales such as these are the domain of the preschooler and very young readers, they actually have a place on the shelves of every library, primary and secondary.

Firstly, they are a part of our oral culture and there is an expectation that when you mention a particular story, the students will know enough of the core story to bring it to mind.  So this can be compared to other cultures whose history has been passed down orally.

Secondly, the original purpose of such stories was a didactic one – each had a lesson or a moral to be learned by the younger generation without putting them physically at risk – so students can not only examine what that lesson is, but also compare it to the traditional stories of other cultures to investigate if similar, universal truths were a common theme.

Thirdly, most of them are now hundreds of years old so what is it about these stories that mean they have endured over time, place and space?  Even though they have been retold, re-interpreted and repackaged into a variety of formats, why does the core and essence remain intact? Why are they told again and again and again and children’s eyes light up when you pick up a familiar one to read to them?  Which of today’s stories will survive the test of time?  Even though The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now 45, Corduroy is now 40, and Hairy Maclary, Hush and Grandma Poss are all 30-something, do they have whatever it is it takes to notch up centenaries and bicentenaries?

Finally, for now, these books lend themselves to helping students understand that critical information literacy skill of interpretation.  Because there are so many versions available it is easy to collect enough of them to provide the variety required to examine how both the story and the illustrations have been interpreted. What has been added, deleted, or changed to give the story a particular purpose or slant? How would the story change if it were told by another character? Which parts of the story have the illustrators chosen to depict and how are their pictures of the same thing, such as the giant, similar or different?  What common knowledge do we share even though no one has ever seen a giant and is there evidence of stereotyping?

Given their reasonable price of $12.95 for a hardback book, this series would make an affordable addition to the library’s collection so students can start to delve into the deeper questions.  


Elephants Have Wings

Elephants Have Wings

Elephants Have Wings










Elephants Have Wings

Susanne Gervay

Anna Pignataro

Ford Street, 2014

Hbk., 32pp., RRP $A26.95



Bedtime.  And that means a bedtime story, a nightly ritual in many homes and especially this one.  Snuggled under the covers, the children wait in anticipation as Father begins Grandfather’s Story, a tale from his childhood. 

“One night, your grandfather told me and the other children to go outside and search for the secret…”

And so begins a new take on the old story of The Blind Men and the Elephant

The children all think the secret is something different – “a rope”, “a tree branch”, “a marble”, “a scarf”, “a sandy wall” they cry, and begin arguing until they are so angry they are shrieking at each other like a babble of monkeys because each believes they were right.  And then Grandfather came outside carrying a candle and the children saw that each had been right but had also been wrong. 

“So what is the secret?” asked the children.

“It is for you to discover,” said Father.

And as the children fall asleep, pondering, they set off on a magical adventure flying on a mystical elephant with wings through to morning where they discover the secret.

In a world where reality comes straight into our living rooms, it is lovely to share a story that offers the suggestion of peace and hope.  As the elephant soars over the world’s landscapes showing the children its beauty but also its ugliness, the children learn about people and the core thread of humanity that binds us all together.  The elephant is symbolic in many religions, representing courage, hope, endurance and wisdom and so the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant is part of the story-telling of many religions and cultures, making this re-imagining a story for all children. 

The riches of tradition, mythology and spirituality are woven into a wonderful tapestry, beautifully captured by Anna Pignataro’s imagination in the outstanding pictures, intertwined with imagery of the Asia and India where the story first originated. Even the endpapers with their merging rainbow colours emphasise the message.


The concept that we are all the same but different is a difficult one for young people to grasp because they only see the external but this partnership of Gervay and Pignataro (who also brought us Ships in the Field) is so successful that the message it accessible to all. So much so that it has been awarded the Blake Prize logo, an annual Prize and Exhibition program for contemporary art and poetry exploring the themes of spirituality, religion and human justice, and the first children’s book ever to have been honoured in this way.

This is a book for all ages. The commonality of its story across so many religions begs an investigation into why it would be – what is its core message that has such universality?  Going back to the original story could spark a discussin about what is truth and how our perception of events is dependent on our role within them and the lens through which we are looking. Even though each picture is full of the richest details, its true beauty only emerges when we look at it in its entirety.

I have a shelf on which I put the books that I think are going to be CBCA award winners this year.  This one is going onto that shelf!


A peek inside…