Books that invite you to read along each day as Christmas approaches have long been a part of the publishing landscape. In 1955 Puffin released The Yuletide Cottage by John Harwood. The idea was that readers would push out a new piece every day until they had built their own Christmas house. It proved to be a disaster that practically disintegrated in people’s hands. Later came The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. Although this book didn’t fall apart, it did feel rather heavy on the religiosity. No such problems with Alex T. Smith’s How Winston Delivered Christmas, a book as light as a Christmas day snow flurry and as well constructed as the Tonka truck wrapped up under the tree.
When a small mouse called Winston is knocked off his feet by an undelivered letter to Father Christmas, he begins a dangerous mission to find the jolly man with the beard and the smart red suit, quite desperate that the sender not be disappointed on Christmas morning.
The plucky mouse wraps himself up in his tatty red scarf and ventures out into the night on a seemingly hopeless mission. He mus overcome a series of oversized obstacles, each making the goal look further away than before.
Winston must also avoid the many temptations that appear before him. Who couldn’t resist the lure of a manger stuffed with cosy straw on a cold night? Or take a diversion to discover what the delicious smells are that keep wafting from shops and houses?
Along the way Winston is helped out be a series of surprisingly helpful animals, like Pru the pampered house cat, plump on caviar and canapes, and not a bit interested in eating a grubby mouse like Winston. Better still is the rat Eduardo Fromage, the self appointed night manager of glamorous Fortesques’s Department Store. His main job appears to be tasting the wares whilst wearing a natty fez.
In between every chapter is a short activity for readers to make and do. They include classics like writing your own letter for Father Christmas, making a Christmas pomander and best of all an exhortation to deliver your own random act of kindness, just like Winston.
Really the book is an opportunity for Alex T. Smith to do what he does best: dress up his eccentric and surprising cast in a succession of glorious 1930s costumes set against the backdrop of the most supremely inviting locations.
For the most part I’ve stopped reading stories to my children because they’re too old now, and none of them are about Fortnite. But we all made the effort to come together with Winston, and it’s been a delight to hear them demanding ‘just one more chapter’ again. So thank you Mr T. Smith for delivering Christmas to our house once again.
How Winston Delivered Christmas is published by Macmillan