Coming a close second (after Sir Raymond Briggs) in my list of children’s authors who capture Christmas, is Dame Shirley Hughes (not actually a Dame or a Sir, but that’s surely a technicality). Last year I was taken back to my own 70s childhood when I re-read Lucy and Tom’s Christmas. This year, we go back into Shirley’s own childhood Christmas in Liverpool.
It’s the backstreets and not her own middle class household that we visit in The Christmas Eve Ghost. Bronwen and Dylan are the children of a widowed washerwoman, who works so hard she must leave the children alone while she drops and collects her laundry. This is a world stripped of the trappings of Christmas as we know it, the only festive dazzle found on the street.
On the way home they saw the brightly-lit up shops with dead rabbits and turkeys and joints of meat hanging up, and people selling toys in the street and piles of apples on market barrows.
She might not be able to afford a lavish Christmas, but Bronewn and Dylan’s Mam can tell a mean Christmas ghost story. So much so that come Christmas Eve, while she pops out to run a few last minute errands, the children begin to wonder whether a noise from the wash house is Father Christmas trapped in the boiler or something more sinister.
This is a book for anyone who enjoyed Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo (basically everybody). It captures its era so evocatively yet still makes you feel like it could be you walking those streets or hanging your socks over the end of the bedstead.
Amongst the wonderful period detail are two small people whose excitement and fears are palpable, the harsh realities of life brightened by the fantasy of a Christmas ghost story.