(suggested) interest age: 3+
(suggested) reading age: 7+
Illustrations: Valériane Leblond https://www.valeriane-leblond.eu/home.html
Every year several Christmas books pop up, but this is the one that drew my attention this year, and it's one of those you can keep going back to again and again, year after year. It's certainly a keeper.
Isn’t this such a beautiful book? It’s very much worthy of a hardback. The partnership between Caryl Lewis (author) and Valériane Leblond (illustrator) has been very successful in the past, giving us gems such as Sgleinio'r Lleuad a Merch y Mêl. One can instantly recognize Valériane's style, and pairing her pictures with Caryl's words works very well. I like the contrast between the coldness of the night and the warmth of the houses. The white Christmas on the cover conjures an image of a traditional, old-fashioned Christmas – like how one imagines what Christmas used to be like. In fact, I'm still hoping that we'll get a white Christmas one day, but I’ve been doing this since 2010!
Mari and her Mum are busy baking mince pies on Christmas Eve, and as the little girl stares through the window, she notices the strange little cottage next door, with its higgledy-piggledy walls. Some of those Welsh adjectives are simply gorgeous, and we don’t use them often enough!
An old lady, Mrs Cloch, lives in the house, but Mari hasn't seen anyone call there to visit her. With the cottage looking lonely in the darkness, the young girl is rather sad about it. This is a very relevant theme in this modern times. With everyone leading such busy lives and the changes in society, how many of us actually know our neighbours? Will you be dropping in on them over Christmas? I count myself incredibly lucky that I have family around me, and that we can all get together over the festive season. But not everyone has this luxury, and I'm sure many will be lonely over the holidays, especially amongst the elderly.
As for the story, I'm not sure if I quite buy the idea that such a young child would be allowed out into the night all alone by their parents, but I’m thinking too much about it I know! I understand it’s important for the narrative so I'll let that one slide on this occasion!
When Mari arrives at the cottage, which is cold and dark outside, she is welcomed by Mrs Cloch, who is delighted to see her. I can’t help thinking about my own Grandparents here. With the days long and tedious in the house all day, having the company of us, the grandchildren, brightens their day. As I get older myself, it’s not the gifts that matter to me, but spending time with the most important people in my life.
As the hours go by, and with Mrs Cloch and Mari enjoying each other’s company, they decorate the cottage whilst waiting for Mrs Cloch’s son. Who is he I wonder? Well, he’s a bit late because he’s ever so busy on Christmas Eve and has to do a lot of travelling. Go figure!
Each year, you always get a few new Christmas books, and Mari and Mrs Cloch is one of the best. For me, the obvious message of the story is love your neighbour, and be kind. If you know of someone who is frail or lonely, head over to see them from time to time, especially at Christmas. Your company will be enough I'm sure – but a mince pie or two would go down a treat!
This has the potential to become one of those Christmas classics, a bit like Raymond Brigg's The Snowman in English. It’ll have a place on the Sôn am Lyfra shelf for some years to come, and I look forward to sharing it with my son when he’s a bit older.
The date where I finally posted this review is January 15th (I forgot to do this before Christmas. Oops) Yes, Christmas 2023 may have come and gone, but remember it's never too early to start buying Christmas books. Grab a copy ready for next Christmas!