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I'm a huge fan of festive books at Christmas, and Harry already amassed quite a collection from the past few Christmases that he's been a big book fan. Even though he's 6 and likes reading what he calls "grown up books" now, I still think it's wonderful to share picture books together, and now he's of the age where he really understands stories, we use the pictures as talking prompts, and talk about ideas he comes up with after reading. I think this works particularly well when there are obvious talking points in a story, and I think 'The Empty Stocking' is one of the best festive books for children I've read in a long, long time.
The first thing you'll notice about this book is that it's by the very famous writer and director, Richard Curtis, who wrote the brilliant 'The Vicar of Dibley', 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'Love Actually' amongst other famous films. As far as I'm aware, this is the first book he's penned, and I'm really pleased he chose to wrote a Christmas book for children as his first. The cover looks very festive, all red with a big Christmas in the middle of it, and the title in bold yellow across the middle of the tree. Curtis doesn't actually illustrate the book himself, that honour goes to illustrator Rebecca Cobb, and my goodness does she do a superb job.
Twin sisters Charlie and Sam are a little bit worried about Christmas. Sam is a good girl - she works hard at school, she's well behaved and polite. But her sister Charlie isn't always a good girl. She's a bit naughty every now and then, she's cheeky and school, and she's worried that it means that Santa won't bring her any Christmas presents. When the girls are asleep, Santa visits. But what the girls don't know is that this year, Santa is getting tough. Very tough. However, when Charlie wakes up in the middle of night, she realises something's gone horribly wrong. Is Charlie going to be able to make it all okay for her and her sister again?!
As an adult, you can probably guess exactly what's happened, but Harry didn't have a clue about what was coming for poor Sam and Charlie. As the story went on, I could see Harry's face starting to drop as he realised what was going on, and I liked that it draws out the emotions in children, and perhaps makes them think about their own behaviour as well! When we talked it through afterwards, he could explain what had gone on, why it had happened and I can see that Curtis has targeted this book perfectly for its age group. Harry knew that it was Charlie's behaviour that was the consequence of what Santa did, but he also recognised the good in her later actions too, and I think the story has a fantastic moral to it. It also goes to show how we judge too quickly, and even I was surprised at the twist with Charlie at the end.
As I mentioned, the illustrations in the book were perfect for it, and they are just as important to the book as the words, without a doubt. Cobb has really got into the heart of the characters, and they really come to life on the pages. The detail in the pictures is excellent, from the intricate detail on a full page illustration inside Charlie and Sam's house, to the expressions on the girls face, especially Charlie's towards the end of the book are superb, and really convey so much on their own. Father Christmas/Santa looks like a traditional Santa should, and I have to say I did like that the scenery pictures weren't covered in snow... making it a proper British picture book! Cobb's drawing are simply gorgeous, and really complement Curtis' story, they are a joy to study and look at as much as the words are to read.
This has quickly become of one of my favourite Christmas picture books to share with Harry, and we've already read it a few times despite the fact we've only had it a week! I love the morals at the heart of it, the fact that Santa actually does the unthinkable, and that it shows that even naughty girls have hearts of gold too. The lovely Christmassy illustrations work beautifully throughout the book, and I have to say I like that it was a bit longer than a normal picture book too, lots of words in here to enjoy. Harry could confidently read this himself, there aren't any tricky words as such, but it's a nice one for parents to read aloud, and chat about with your children as you're reading too. I cannot recommend 'The Empty Stocking' highly enough, this is Richard Curtis at his best. Simply brilliant.
ISBN: 978-0141336251. Published by Puffin on 4th October 2012. Pages: 48. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you for reading.