A combination seemingly put together to cater specifically for my tastes, One Christmas Wish brings together the author of one of my books of the year (Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer) with the artist behind one of the best Christmas picture books of recent years (Emily Sutton’s The Christmas Eve Tree). Thankfully they don’t disappoint.
‘It was Christmas Eve, and Theodore was fighting a cardboard box. The box was winning.’
Rundell is always strong on openings – the ‘dark and stormy girl’ in The Wolf Wilder a particular favourite. She’s also great at middles and ends. This one follows a boy called Theo, home alone on Christmas Eve whilst his parents are at work and his babysitter asleep on her phone.
Theo makes a wish not to be alone, a wish ‘so hard his skin prickled and his head spun.’ Suddenly four battered and broken decorations come to life. What the rocking horse, tin soldier, angel and robin lack in make up for in sparkly newness they more than make up for in personality.
What begins like the Nutcracker, continues like the Wizard of Oz. Each of the decorations is missing something, and they enter the fantastical night of an English town on a deserted Christmas Eve in search of a song for the Robin, feathers for the fairy and a wife for the soldier. The horse has less specific needs: food, or whatever it can chew, and lots of it.
Much of the book’s humour comes from Sutton’s illustrations which add amusing touches to Rundell’s text. When Theo passes round chewing gum to glue for the Angel’s new feathers, the horse gobbles it down. On the accompanying page he is looking pleased as punch, a great pink bubble blown from his mouth.
You can get lost in these sumptuous, detailed spreads. Sutton is also a master of colour, bringing light and space to the busiest scenes and conjuring up an instant atmosphere.
I won’t share the final spread depicting the scene in Theo’s living room on Christmas morning as I couldn’t do it justice here. Suffice to say Sutton saves the best for last and has created one of the best decorated houses in picture book history. Run out and buy the book and see for yourself.
One Christmas Wish is published by Bloomsbury