My Aunt Barb once gave me a gift of a book and a package of adhesive book plates inscribed with this phrase:
A book is a present you can open again and again.
I cherished both the book (the complete and uncut hardcover version of Stephen King’s The Stand: an extraordinary read) and the book plates. The sentiment was so novel to me at first, and yet reflected a deep love of reading that I’d already possessed for a number of years.
And over the years, Aunt Barb has been an excellent recommender of books to me: Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) and so many more that I couldn’t possibly list all the great reads Aunt Barb has passed my way.
And ever since that birthday so many years ago, I have never opened a book without remembering Aunt Barb’s adhesive advice. So when I received a package full of books from the lovely folks at Penguin, I couldn’t help thinking, oh wonderful! Presents I can open again and again!
And I have opened them again and again, as a matter of fact.
The first book I picked out of the box was J. K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard. As a huge Harry Potter fan, I knew I’d enjoy this cute little book. I was surprised, however, by how much I enjoyed it, as I’d been a bit worried that it might seem — well, trivial — after the intensity of books six and seven in the HP series (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Far from being trite or trivial, though The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a piece of magic in its own right.
True to Rowling’s formula, there is something for both kids and parents to enjoy in this little gem. My eight year-old daughter (a huge HP fan) loved the tales themselves and Rowling’s own beautiful illustrations. And while I really enjoyed the stories, what really won me over was the commentary at the end of each tale: discovered "among the many papers which Dumbledore left in his will to the Hogwarts Archives," the commentary adds a hilarious new perspective to these edifying tales. I also really appreciated Rowling’s foreword, in which she points out that the heroines in these magical fairy tales are much more active than their counterparts in muggle fairy tales: they "take their fates into their own hands, rather than taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe."
Now I must be honest here, and tell you that we’ve been so busy in the leadup to Christmas
that we’ve only managed to get through two of the five books in the package. And one of the reasons we’ve been so busy is that the second book I pulled out of the box was Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Friends.
A follow-up to the popular Gingerbread Baby, Gingerbread Friends brings us back to our friends Mattie and the cheeky gingerbread baby. Lonely in his gingerbread house, the gingerbread baby heads out to the village in search of friends to play with. As in the first book, Mattie is in the borders of Brett’s incredible illustrations, this time baking some friends for his friend the gingerbread baby.
We decided to use Brett’s recipe to bake some gingerbread cookies of our own, and I got together with my two daughters, nephew and neice for an afternoon of baking. We had hours of fun measuring out all the spices, sugar, molasses and butter, and even had a long-ish discussion about the order for a "hen’s egg" (what other kind of egg could there be? A rooster’s egg? And so on…)
Jan Brett has always been a family favourite for her incredibly beautiful illustrations and lovely takes on traditional tales from across the globe. We also love that each story has a second plot that you can follow along in the borders of the illustrations, and this story does not disappoint. Gingerbread Friends is a worthy successor to Gingerbread Baby, complete with a beautifully-wrought surprise on the last page.
If you haven’t already rounded out the gift list for the young ones on your list – I strongly recommend either The Tales of Beedle the Bard or Gingerbread Friends.