Scrumptious Stories Blog Tour: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent

Graphic created by Erin Hamilton

I could not have been happier when Erin and Kate proposed a blog tour for a group of children’s books bloggers to talk about the delicious treats found within the covers of MG Fiction, and invited me to take part. I had, that very evening, started writing a review of this year’s must-read festive publication: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent which you can read here.

For me, one of the loveliest aspects of Christmas is preparing and sharing food with friends and family; the Carroll family in Mel Taylor-Bessent’s fabulously festive book certainly appear to have the same mindset! There are mouth-watering descriptions of mince pies, hot chocolate, Christmas cake, snowball sundaes, candy canes and turkey sandwiches, you can practically taste the warmth of the mixed spice and smell the astringent sage as you read. I have to draw the line at gravy on chocolate cake, however! I asked Mel about her own favourite Christmas food and this was her reply:

Quote from Mel Taylor-Bessent

Inspired by Holly’s mum presenting Archer with a box of mince pies and a recipe for the Carroll family’s famous hot chocolate as a thank you for taking care of Holly on her first day at school, I decided to try to recreate these enticing treats. So, here are my recipes for Christmas Carroll Chocolat Chaud and Mum’s Mince Pies!

Christmas Carroll Chocolat Chaud

Ingredients

1 cup of milk

2-3 heaped teaspoons hot chocolate powder

Squirty cream/whipped cream

Optional

Cinnamon

Candy Canes

Sprinkles/grated chocolate/mini marshmallows

Method

Heat the milk in a saucepan, the microwave or an electric milk frother so that it is hot but not boiling.

Use a little of the hot milk to dissolve the hot chocolate powder and then stir in the rest of the milk.

Add whipped cream or squirty cream and any combination of toppings; sprinkles, grated chocolate, cinnamon, mini marshmallows or candy canes according to taste.

Enjoy!

Perfect as a warming treat after a hard day at school or a brisk walk in the autumn/winter frost and snow.

Mum’s Mince Pies

Ingredients

1 pack ready-made puff pastry (you can, of course make your own puff pastry. I learnt the technique in school Home Economics lessons and it’s fun but very time-consuming!)

400g jar mincemeat

A little milk

A sprinkle of icing sugar

Method

Cut block of pastry into two and roll out one of the pieces to a thickness of 3mm

Cut 12 discs with a round cookie cutter and place in a well-buttered patty tin

Prickle the bases with a fork, then pile a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat into each of the pastry bases

Roll out the second half of the pastry and use any shaped cookie cutter to make the lids of your mince pies, I like to use a star

Place on top of the mincemeat and brush the tops with a little milk

Bake in a pre-heated oven, 200°C (gas 6) for approx 15 mins, until golden

Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar

Here are some mince pies and hot chocolate I made earlier!

If you wish to attempt other seasonal recipes inspired by Nick, Snow, Holly and Ivy Carroll, head to the resources page on Mel’s website, where amongst a host of activities, you will find downloadable recipe cards for Grotto Cakes, Ice Cakes and Christmallows. These would make a wonderful end of term activity at school or Christmas holiday activity at home for young bakers.

I hope that this post has given you some yuletide inspiration and that you will enjoy the festive season in whichever way you choose to celebrate, hopefully accompanied by family, friends, a great book and something tasty to eat.

Cover art by Selom Sunu

Do check out the other stops on the tour for more foodie fun from the wide world of children’s literature!

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu

Cover illustration by Selom Sunu, published by Farshore an imprint of Harper Collins, October 2021.
MG Takes On Thursday graphic by Mary Simms.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Mel Taylor-Bessent

Illustrator: Selom Sunu

Publisher: Farshore

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

A world filled with snowfall and sunshine, flashing fairy lights, and constant jingling bells.

p11

This book in three words: Christmas Every Day!

Imagine being part of a family who celebrate every day as if it were Christmas, and see it as their mission in life to spread festive cheer to everyone they encounter! This is exactly the life that Holly and her family, the Carrolls, enjoy, at their home in the countryside. Her Dad, Nick, has never let go of the joyous feeling that arriving from Jamaica in the middle of a snowstorm brought him, and now spends his time inventing merrynifiscent Christmas creations. Mum, Snow, designs a fabulous range of Christmas aprons and homeschools Holly with festive fervour; symmetry lessons using lights and decorations on a tree sounds like a magnificent maths lesson to me! Meanwhile, we await baby Ivy’s first word to see if it will be one of her big sister’s concatenations.

However, when the Carrolls leap at the opportunity to buy a house on the third most Christmassy road in the world, Sleigh Ride Avenue, their lives are upturned quicker than a six-year-old’s stocking on Christmas morning! Firstly, their exuberant arrival is frowned upon by miserable neighbour Hugh Berg, referred to as Mr Bleurgh by Holly. Then there is the small matter of a lack of fireplace to contend with. However, the biggest challenge for Holly is her adjustment to the social and cultural norms of a Year 5 classroom.

Author, Mel Taylor-Bessent, captures the comedic potential of Holly’s enthusiastic embrace of anything festive brilliantly and descriptions of her arrival in the classroom, throwing handfuls of snowflake confetti, offering to sing a carol to her classmates and inability to refrain from shouting out her approval for the class book, will have readers giggling with appreciation. Her enthusiasm is so infectious that even the quiet loner of the class, Archer, seems to be warming to the task of making a joint presentation for the roles of class representatives with her.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Holly’s zeal. Her yuletide accessorising of school uniform is frowned upon by the head teacher, some of her class cohort are less than complimentary about her “backpack of cheer” and apparently Mr Bleurgh is raising a petition to have the Carrolls removed from Sleigh Ride Avenue. When Archer appears to turn his back on their burgeoning friendship, Holly loses her Christmas cheer and has to reassess her behaviour as she ponders what to do in order to fit in with her new surroundings and whether she can bring cheer to the person who needs it the most. Will she follow her muse, Reggie the donkey-who-thinks-he’s-a-reindeer, and continue to spread goodwill? You will have to read The Christmas Carrolls to find out!

This is such a big-hearted story that it will make a wonderful addition to anyone’s festive story collection. It would be a wonderful whole class read to enjoy during December, likely to instil the Christmas Eve feeling of “everyone still and listening…and magic in the air”. Additionally, the joyfully expressive illustrations throughout, by Selom Sunu, make it a perfect independent read for anyone of 8/9+. It is really no surprise that Mel Taylor-Bessent, who has done so much to promote the love of reading for primary school children should have authored such an exhilarating and inclusive story. It really doesn’t matter how you celebrate the festive season, the underlying messages of gratitude, enjoying the moment and doing your best to make someone else feel happy are universal, and packaged in this beautiful book are bound to spread cheer. The sense of bonhomie seems to burst from the pages and as for the descriptions of festively fragranced food, I am reaching for my 30 year-old copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas a month earlier than usual! This is a Christmas cracker that does not disappoint.

Review: The Miracle on Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle

Cover image by Pedro Riquelme, published by Penguin Random House/Puffin Books

This is the book that everyone should find in their stocking this Christmas! Catherine Doyle’s reworking of A Christmas Carol sparkles with Yuletide magic and is served with a dusting of her trademark lyricism and charm.

This story overflows with magical and mysterious characters as it recounts the tale of George Bishop, a ten year-old whose world was drained of colour three years previously when his mother died in a car accident on Christmas Eve. Since then, his father Hugo has immersed himself in his work running the family property empire and has banned all references to Christmas. As they approach their third monochrome Christmas without beautiful, kind, artistic Greta, the prospects look grim. Or so it would appear, until George’s grandmother takes him on a clandestine trip to the Winter Wonderland and leaves him to explore Marley’s Christmas Curiosities at the end of a row of wooden huts. In this enchanted space, with its myriad attractions, George is drawn to the shelf labelled “last minute miracles” and discovers a snow globe which inexplicably contains a heart-breakingly familiar snowman.

As anyone familiar with A Christmas Carol would expect, visits to Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future follow, as the snow globe grants George his three miracles. Without wishing to give away any plot spoilers I will just note that these wondrous journeys in the company of fellow travellers such as oil portraits and purple reindeers will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Moments of great hilarity such as Elf-on-the-shelf Tricksie halting mid-miracle to perform an audit segue seamlessly into Aunt Alice whispering to her late sister in a scene that will cause eyes to leak.

The characters are all beautifully realised, from six year-old cousin Clementine with her loudly joyful ability to see magic around her; Hugo whose grief has caused him to shut all colour from his and his son’s lives and George whose longing for family and home drives the narrative. My favourite of all was Nana Flo, the perfect grandmother; warm and wise with an Irish twinkle in her eye, she wears “mystery like a cloak” and is always “happy to conspire at short notice”.

In summary, I absolutely love The Miracle on Ebenezer Street and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone, independent readers from 9+, and parents, carers, grandparents, teachers and librarians to read aloud to younger children. Teenagers studying A Christmas Carol for GCSE are also likely to enjoy this thoroughly modern reworking of the story and can amuse themselves finding the clever references sprinkled throughout. Catherine Doyle has written a remarkable story which celebrates the colour, beauty, hope and love of Christmas.

I read somewhere that this book had been commissioned to mark the publisher Puffin’s 80th anniversary and Charles Dickens’ 150th anniversary and feel that it’s timing this year is perfect. With many families facing this Christmas grieving for a loved one, this tender, poignant story might just help children to feel that they are not alone in processing the memories of Christmas past whilst trying to rekindle the hope that we all wish for at this time of year.

Let your heart be your compass, it will show you the way”.

I am most grateful to #NetGalley and Penguin Children’s Books for allowing me access to an electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The hardback version was published on 1st October 2020 and I hope that the image above gives some idea of the beautiful cover artwork created by Pedro Riquelme.