Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Book Review: ‘Lady Davina Dove, A Christmas Story’ by Jani Tully Chaplin

Book Review: ‘Lady   Davina Dove, A Christmas Story’ by Jani Tully Chaplin
Review by Tracey Kifford, owner of WowThankYou, a marketplace for UK-based designer-makers

 I was asked to review the above book via Mumpreneur MumsClub and saw it as a great opportunity to introduce my two children – my daughter Millie-Mae (aged 7) and my son Toby (aged 5) to this book in The Manor House Stories series. I decided that the WowThankYou blog was a good place to post this review, as it is an ‘all British’ publication, with the author having written the books in Devon, with a British printer producing the printed copies.

They say you can always judge a book by its cover, and our first impression was a good one – a nice sized solid hard covered book with an inviting illustration and a shiny smooth slip cover, with a red ribbon page marker hanging through it. A good size to suit most hands – from young early readers through to adults.

When you open the book, the first thing you notice is a Foreword by Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey. This alone suggests we’re about to read something a little special. Turning a few more pages and there’s a double-page spread containing lovely illustrations of some of the characters – all of them rather dapper with equally posh names! It does make you feel, though, that there are a lot of characters in a relatively small book (68 pages). You do wonder how these will all be included, and once you start reading the first few pages, this worry doesn’t immediately go away …

The story, if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series, does require you to concentrate as there’s a lot to take in. New characters are mentioned in what seems like every other paragraph initially and you fear you’ll forget who they are due to ‘character overload’. But once the story gets going, it all seems to seamlessly come together and when coming across a character last mentioned right at the beginning, the author very cleverly reminds you who they are!

The story itself is a very festive one. To us, it is a cross between Downton Abbey and Wind in the Willows as it is set in an era approximately late Victorian through to Edwardian times when country estates were still commonplace with a large staff. In this instance, the cast are all animals.

The head of Manor House is Lord Peregrine Falcon and his wife, Lady Davina, is always responsible for arranging Christmas – everything from organising the household to buying presents. From childhood she’s had a secret Christmas wish of her own, but it would never come true as she’d never told anyone about it. Or was that about to change …

Preparing the Manor House for the festivities is the focus of the story – where you are introduced to such delightful characters as Sarah Sparrow the Scullery Maid, Delia Duck the Cook, Cream and Sugar the Milkmaids, Chesterfield Penguin the Butler and Rory Redshank the Footman. All have very specific instructions on what they need to do to make Christmas flow without a hitch. You learn about how resourceful they are, from eating vegetables grown in the Manor gardens by Radish Robin the Gardener, to receiving nuts, berries, apples and seeds from the hoarded bounty in Sgt. Simon Squirrel the Quartermaster’s storeroom. Supermarkets were many years away from being invented! It is a genuine case of “grow your own” and “make do and mend”, as indeed it was in those days.  Even the Christmas tree had been grown in their own forest!

 On Christmas Eve, once everything was ready for the feast the following day, and Lord Peregrine had lit the first candle on the tree, a group of characters go carol singing. Everyone from Lady Davina to the milkmaids sing their way around the village, entertaining the residents of each and every cottage they visit. It’s a nice touch as it shows that, even though for most of the time there was a definite ‘upstairs/downstairs’ divide, they can come together and put their social standings aside.

As Christmas Eve drew to an end, and Lord Peregrine had spent the evening talking to his guest Sir David Bunnyburrow about all the conservation efforts underway in the estate to provide safe habitats for many creatures, Lady Davina went to bed. Here, just before she fell asleep, she once again repeated her wish to Father Christmas. But does it come true? It’s not for us to say, but we will tell you that she’s awoken by the sound of tinkling bells …

It is a lovely story that both children enjoyed. The illustrations are beautiful and you do feel you are reading a collectable ‘classic’ akin to Beatrix Potter. This book is a keepsake item without a doubt. In terms of reading age, my 7 year old (who has a good ‘beyond her years’ level of reading) would struggle with some of the words, mainly owing to them not being used on an everyday basis – specifically the actual characters names. This is definitely a book to read to your children, and is that perfect length that allows you to read the whole book in a single session holding the children’s attention from the start to the end.

Both of my children gave this story 5 out of 5 – and I agree with them. It is a very charming read and we will definitely read it again x

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