We have dozens of picture books about Christmas here at The Madhouse, all of them much-loved, but I think this is the very first one that we own to look at New Year. I found this doubly fascinating as - being in a bilingual household - the kids know that the French call New Year's Eve "le Saint Sylvestre" but I've never had any idea who or what this little known saint represents.
The book is quite long for a picture book, containing over 50 pages, but each page only has a small amount of text so it's not too long to read in one sitting. Pierre enjoyed looking at the illustrations, which have a very old-fashioned, traditional feel to them.
The story - which I quite rightly guessed was based on a traditional folk tale from Germany - explains how every year, Saint Sylvester (who sleeps all year apart from this one day) wakes up, goes to the big gates guarded by angels and picks up a young child (representing the new year) from the magical river before delivering him to Earth, where he exchanges him for a very old and tired man (the old year). Saint Sylvester, with his long white beard and horse-drawn flying sleigh, looks very similar to Father Christmas, which confused Pierre and Juliette a bit.
As well as being a lovely way of explaining the changing year to children, it's also perfect reading for anyone who is trying to explain bereavement. Having our own "angel-baby" in the family, the Madhouse Mini-testers immediately picked up on the references to angel children playing happily and having animals and lovely countryside and asked if that is where I thought Angel was. The idea of taking the old man back to the river where he becomes young again, losing his weariness and becoming happy again, could possibly be used to help a grieving grandchild come to terms with the loss of an aged grandparent too.
But above all, it's a lovely, traditional tale that has a timeless quality to it and that looks at an event that is often overlooked in children's books.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £6.99
- Paperback: 56 pages
- Publisher: Far Far Away Books and Media (5 Nov 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1908786663
- ISBN-13: 978-1908786661
- Product Dimensions: 26.4 x 22.4 x 0.8 cm
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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