Three months ago I reviewed The Copper Tree, a book about a young primary school teacher who died – a nicely written book and well illustrated, designed to help little children understand more about dying and death. Christmas Surprise is the same sort of book, but deals with old age.As with The Copper Tree, the story line is simple. A group of children visit an old people’s home to sing to them at Christmas time. Again, the book is fulsomely illustrated by Mandy Stanley, and it is a very nice book – a suitable book to get a little child for Christmas. It is only about thirty pages long, there is not a lot of text, and so it will make a good bedtime story.
In aiming to help little children come to terms with death and ageing Hilary Robinson took on a difficult task.
The death of a young teacher is a terrible loss to the children, her colleagues and her family, especially now that we expect people to have long, fulfilled lives, but clearly the story had to be written in a way that little children could tolerate, so that it could help them to come to terms with loss and grief. I think it got the balance right.
Ageing can also be awful, with disabilities, illnesses, loneliness, incontinence, loss of memory and so on. Clearly one cannot throw all those problems at little children, but the only problem I found in the book was one lady who could no longer sing because she had forgotten the words. This book came over to me as erring on the side of niceness and I think it failed to point up to its readers sufficiently the problems which people requiring residential care may suffer.
It is, of course, easier for a reviewer to make such a comment than for the author to write the book in a way which hits the right balance, but if there are to be more in the series I think they will be more helpful if the problems are acknowledged more clearly than in this book. That said, it is a nice Christmas read.
Robinson, Hilary (2012) Christmas Surprise
Strauss House Publications