As you all know, Shirley Hughes is officially Orange Marmalade’s Favorite Children’s Author/Illustrator. At 86 years old, she continues to write, draw, and paint her way into our hearts. Here are two of her more recent titles, in the nick of time for a rush order for Christmas!
Alfie’s Christmas, written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, published 2013
Alfie is probably Shirley’s best known and beloved character, perpetually 5 or 6 years old. Now you can hang around his household through the Christmas season and enjoy the warm, ordinary, exciting, lovely goings-on there.
Handmade cards and the nursery school pageant, cookie baking, tree trimming, shopping for just the right presents for his mum and dad and Annie Rose, posting his wishes to Father Christmas, hanging his stocking at the foot of the bed…are all carried on in the chummy, ambly pace we love and long for. There’s a bit of a kerfuffle during Christmas night, courtesy of Annie Rose, and a jolly outing with Great-Uncle Will who has come all the way from Australia, both of which add just a pinch of spice to this warm-as-cocoa tale. Other than that, it’s the joy of family together at Christmas which easily carries the story.
Shirley’s artwork speaks for itself. Simply perfect. This book reminds me greatly of her Lucy and Tom’s Christmas, which you can read about here. Sadly, that one is much harder to get ahold of, in the U.S. at least. This nicely carries on the spirit of that book, with all the characters we’ve come to love in the catalog of Alfie stories.
An utterly new cast of characters appears in this book, set in Liverpool in the 1930s, which is the time and place of Shirley’s childhood. Drawing from her memories, she has crafted this rich, warm story.
Bronwen and Dylan, ages about 6 and 4, have just moved from Wales to Liverpool with their Mam, after their Da was killed in a mining accident. It’s a hard life for Mam. The exhausting work of taking in laundry, the fretting over money, and the bleak and sooty city of strangers, all make her dream of the green valleys of home.
Next door live the O’Rileys — Mr. and Mrs. and their two strapping boys. They are a hard-working lot, but Mam has told her children never to speak to them. Why? Bronwen wonders. They seem nice enough, though they do go to quite a different church, not at all like the Chapel where she goes Sundays with Mam. This seems to be the sticking point for Mam. She’s very stern when the subject comes up.
On Christmas Eve, though, when Mam has to leave the children home alone for a last bit of shopping, a terrible knocking, plonking noise in their dark washhouse scares the bujeebers out of the children! They’re certain it’s a horrid ghostie, something like the ones in the bewitching tales Mam sometimes tells them. Skedaddling out of the house, they run straight into the off-limits Mrs. O’Riley, and soon not only is the mysterious sound discovered, but a new friendship has blossomed.
Marvelous watercolors as always, this time with the architecture and trams, household furnishings and clothing styles of Depression-era Liverpool. An especially sweet take on the peace among mankind which beckons particularly to us at Christmas. You can hear Shirley talk about the making of this book at the link here.