There’s surely no human being beter qualified than Shirley Hughes to bring to life the breathless sense of anticipation felt by a couple of children in the run up to Christmas.
I grew up with Lucy and Tom in the late Seventies and early Eighties, so revisiting the book now feels rather like looking at my own childhood Christmases, laid out in lovely thick gouache. It’s all there; the rolling out of the pastry for mince pies; the Sally Army parping away at the end of the street; the frantic unpacking of stockings at the foot of the bed.
The page where we see the presents that Lucy and Tom have both bought for their families raised a particular chuckle of recognition. A rubber in the shape of a dog and a ‘smart bow-tie on elastic’ for dad, a ‘comb in a case for Granny with A for Alison on it (because that’s Granny’s name)’ and best of all ‘a pen for Lucy which changes into different colours’. This is exactly the sort of lovely tat that I would have gathered for my family.
Shirley Hughes’s illustrations have the same effect as discovering an old reel of cine film buried in the loft. It’s all so beautifully detailed, not just the pictures, but also the sharply observed writing. Her humorous eye ensuring that these books will never be lost in the soft focus of nostalgia.