A little while ago we wrote a blog about some of our favourite Christmas books. Today’s post is on a sort-of related topic: books about giving. This has been prompted by a couple of things: Ola suggested the theme with a couple of immediate nominations from our own list. And over the weekend, I read a short and very intriguing blog by Chris Blattman, a professor at Columbia University, about teaching children to share. Blattman writes about the policy of his child’s nursery:
Amara’s daycare (which, as you would expect, is the caricature of the overachieving and neurotic Manhattan nursery) doesn’t believe in sharing.
If Amara has a toy and Billy wants it, Amara is taught not to give it to Billy. Rather, Billy is told that it is Amara’s toy, and that he can have it when she’s done, whenever that may be. Amara is taught to say “mine” and fend off foul Billy.
The idea, they say, is to help a child (especially quieter ones like Amara) feel more secure, and thus share more confidently later in life.
My first thought: this is crazy.
My second thought: this is brilliant. This is the history of property rights in early human society: a set of norms that evolve to solve zero sum games, and thus promote harmony and cooperation in the absence of a coercive state.
Like Blattman, I can’t decide if this is crazy or brilliant, but it certainly made me think. Sharing and giving are very different emotional tasks for anyone to perform (I love giving books as gifts, but am very reluctant to share my own books, for instance…), although in children’s books the two activities are often treated interchangeably: celebrated as ways of teaching generosity, kindness and empathy (no bad thing).
Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, by Axel Scheffler, is a book very much about sharing. Posy snatches Pip’s scooter and Pip is very unhappy about it. But when Posy has a nasty fall, Pip looks after her, and they learn to share together (and, in Posy’s case, say ‘sorry’) by the end.
That distinction – between sharing and giving – is probably the subject for a different blogpost, though, and for the purposes of this one, I’d like to concentrate just on giving, and on stories actually about giving – not just ones in which it features (so, no The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, which does have a great gift-giving scene, but really only as a plot device in service to a larger narrative). There is some crossover between this list and that of our favourite Christmas books, but not as much as I expected there to be, depending on how generously you interpret the idea of “giving”.
There are some lovely books about giving things other than objects, like Hug by Jez Alborough and Hugless Douglas by David Melling.
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley uses gift-giving as a means of tackling another, more difficult subject – dealing with loss – and does it superbly.
A Christmas Carol by Dickens uses giving as a way of providing redemption for Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White both explore giving through acts of great sacrifice.
The volume of post arriving to the Crow’s Nest has risen rather dramatically over the past week – not because of a sudden flurry of submissions (though we’re still receiving plenty of those)… but because we’ve all been doing our Christmas shopping. I think I’m giving books to almost everyone this year – and it occurred to me today that, although we’ve written here before about different Christmastraditions, we’ve never done a proper blog post about our favourite Christmas books.
We have a fair few of our own by now. The picture at the top of this post is of The Snowman’s Journey, the rhyming picture book based on the John Lewis Christmas television advert that we made instantly (along with the knitted version of the snowman, made by Louise’s mum!)
You can order Olivia’s Winter Wonderland online here.
I asked everyone here for some of their all-time favourite Christmas books as well, and here were some of the suggestions:
Imogen nominated The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
Louise suggested The Box of Delights by John Masefield.
For very young readers, Camilla suggested The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna.
Adrian is adamant that the ONLY possible candidate for the title of Best Christmas Book Ever is The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden.
There were lots of votes for both The Snowman and Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs.
And I think my pick is A Christmas Carol by Dickens – though some of my favourite festive stories aren’t books, and when I think of Christmas, I also think of The Nutcracker, It’s A Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
What are your favourite Christmas stories? What have we left off our list? Do let us know on Twitter or in the comments!
The response to the story has been phenomenal – you can read coverage from The Guardian here, The Telegraph here, and The Bookseller here – and thank you to everyone who commented on our announcement blog or wrote to us on Facebook, Twitter or email.
And we’re very happy to say that the book is now on sale! You can buy The Snowman’s Journey exclusively at John Lewis Partnership stores and online, here – while stocks last!
We’d love to know what you make of the book – please do leave your comments underneath this blog, or drop us an email at email@example.com. You can take a look inside below:
We’ve teamed up with John Lewis to create an exclusive picture book for them called The Snowman’s Journey. It’s based on their new Christmas advert, The Journey, which they released on 9 November 2012 and which has had over 2 million YouTube views. Books will be on sale on 1 December 2012.
John Lewis’s Christmas advert, The Journey
The book is a hardback picture book, telling the story of the snowman’s journey to get the perfect present for his snowgirl. It’s written in rhyme by Birdie Black (which is the pseudonym I used for another Christmas story we publish, Just Right for Christmas), and illustrated with stills from the advert.
The book will also include a Stories Aloud QR code on the front endpaper. You can scan the code to hear a digital audio reading by Freya Wilson (who played Princess Elizabeth in The King’s Speech) enhanced with sound effects and music by BAFTA-winning composer, Robin Beanland.
So how did we get a full-colour book from idea to shop in three weeks?
Well, here’s the story.
The advert, called The Journey, was released shortly after 9.00 am on Friday 9 November. There was a flurry of comment on Twitter which we picked up within an hour or so, and I remember we all watched the ad in the office together, and talked about its emotional power. But it was a normal, busy day. I was off to the ASCEL conference of school librarians in Leicestershire that afternoon and thought no more about it.
But the next morning, I just… felt like looking at the advert again, so I switched on my computer. There were already 400,000 YouTube views recorded, and it was on this second viewing that the idea for the book dawned. It was such a simple story of an adventurous and dangerous journey with an emotional core that was clearly resonating with hundreds of thousands of people. While I’d been enormously impressed with other John Lewis adverts, this one really felt book-like and child-like and the snowman protagonist felt like a picture book character. I thought that the idea of a perfectly chosen but relatively modest gift was one that all of us who are being careful with our budgets this Christmas would respond to.
By 10.00 am, I’d written the first few verses and discussed it with Adrian, Camilla, Tom and Stephanie. It was Louise’s first weekend, so I let her off the hook, but she quickly became involved in the week that followed. The idea was that we’d assemble a small team in the office on Sunday to create a dummy that we could get in front of John Lewis within a couple of days. This was a completely speculative thing, of course: we had no idea who had rights and we had no idea if John Lewis would be interested in the project at all, or would be interested in acting as quickly as we needed them to act.
Our team working on the book
I was speaking at an IBBY conference on Saturday, but, still, the unedited text was complete by 10.00 am on Sunday 11 November, when Stephanie, Tom and I met in the Nosy Crow office. Tom provided a series of low-resolution screen-grabs from the YouTube advert and Stephanie started weaving the text and the images together into a much more sophisticated and “picture-booky” design than I’d envisaged. She decided, for example, that she wanted to use design on the wrapping paper from the snowman’s present as the endpapers, so Adrian went off to John Lewis in Oxford Street to get it. Tom started work on adding this book to our programme of Stories Aloud titles, and we did a very basic, lo-tech recording with Freya at 6.00 pm. Camilla, who’d been away for the weekend with her family, came in to dummy up the book… which was when we discovered we’d run out of toner, so we had to do the final print-outs with the help of an all-night printer in Mayfair. But by midnight on Sunday 11 November, we had a dummy book.
The wrapping paper from John Lewis
I went with Bounce’s Catherine Stokes to see Baker and Taylor in Bicester on the morning of Monday 12 November. They loved it, and by Wednesday 14 November, we were in front of John Lewis, who signed off the project on the afternoon of Friday 16 November and provided us with higher-resolution images.
One of the Snowman models (and me) at John Lewis
Stephanie, Louise and I worked to prepare print-ready files over the weekend of 17 and 18 November.
Louise giving the book a last edit
The book was on press in Italy on Tuesday 19 November. We received advance copies today. Bulk stock will be delivered to Baker and Taylor at 8.00am on Thursday 29 November, and books will be on sale at £9.99 in John Lewis and Waitrose stores on Saturday 1 December.
The Snowman display in the window of Peter Jones
Craig Inglis, Marketing Director at John Lewis, said, “I was thrilled to find out that Nosy Crow liked our Christmas advert enough to publish a book based on its story. Our snowman seems to have captured the imagination of a wide audience, so it’s great that children can now enjoy his epic journey in such a magical book.”
You can read our full press release here, and take a look inside below: