I hope you all had a wonderfully festive couple of days and an excellent Christmas. It was really nice to spend time with my family and I was really excited to see my parents reactions to their gifts. The whole time I was thinking just how lucky I am because they always made Christmas magical for me. It’s also been wonderful to crack on with some reading and get down my to be read pile!
Today I want to share with you what I chose for my final Book Bingo Reading Challenge. The theme was: read a book with snow on the cover. I can not tell you how difficult it was to actually find a book with snow on the cover! I couldn’t find any for ages! Eventually, whilst out Christmas shopping I stumbled across this beautiful Christmas poem by Carol Ann Duffy. The illustrations by Yelena Bryksenkova are stunning too. I’m talking about the glorious Advent Street.
What’s it all about?
Like you would an advent calendar, this glorious little book invites you to open the windows on Advent Street and see what hides inside. As you explore the poem, you see inside a street pub, an old man and his tangerine bird and a ballerina, poised by a Christmas tree. Yet, there is a sense of melancholy for this time to year too, especially if one is alone.
‘That was the year when worse luck heaped on bad brought you to Advent Street…’
Another page, another window. This time a young girl at the piano, readying herself to play O Little Town. The next window shows a boy with nine Hanukkah candles, providing light. TV screens, Christmas trees, lovers, singers and another. Sadness sits with the speaker, the one outside the windows, gazing in.
‘Your heart pined to be whole; heal, like the sorrow sung by the carols towards joy.’
Babies, teenagers, the elderly all feature in this poem and an opportunity presents itself for the speaker – a house for sale on Advent Street. But the sadness is overwhelming until the next window, with neighbours together, welcomed the speaker in with open arms.
‘So you did sit and eat in Advent Street.’
Isn’t this just beautiful? It’s probably one of the shortest books I own but I found the poetry and the illustrations to work perfectly. I love the play with light and dark, happiness and sadness, togetherness and isolation. There is a joy to being together and also an appreciation that some may be alone. I really enjoyed this poem and found it to be quite compelling and a unique little festive read. Each window does provide the reader a gift as well as the speaker. This has also made me realise that I need to read more poetry. A New Year’s resolution maybe! Carol Ann Duffy is a pure talent. I love how she plays with language and I really need to make more effort to read her poetry anthologies.
Well, would you look at that! 12 themes, 12 books, another reading challenge completed. Granted I slipped behind in October and November but I feel like I’ve finished on a high. I can’t wait to create a reading challenge for next year!
Have you read any festively brilliant reads this holiday? Do let me know! Have you completed your own reading challenge? Again, tell me all about it! I’ll get cracking on mine to share with you in the next few days.
How are you all? I’ve missed you all terribly! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I can only apologise. School is manic now we have all the children back but it’s so good to see them. Also, I’ve got myself in that rut of reading (albeit much slower than usual) but not having the words to write. I’ve got some wonderful books I can’t wait to share with you all so I hope the words come soon. I’ll give it a go with this book anyway. We all know and love Michael Rosen from his wonderful children’s books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and my personal favourite, Chocolate Cake amongst others. In fact, I don’t know a child who hasn’t been brought up knowing his stories. However his latest book tells a very different story. It’s the story of his survival. It is a story of love.
What’s it all about? This book is a mix of diary entries, messages and prose poems, sharing the journey of Michael Rosen and his battle with coronavirus. It opens with an entry on 23rd March 2020 – almost one year ago. The entry is from Michael’s wife, Emma. At this point, Michael was feeling unwell but did not have any of the symptoms that have been drilled into us. Michael continues to feel worse and worse and Emma decides to ask their friend and neighbour, a GP, to help. Whilst waiting on the doorstep, Emma checks Michael’s oxygen. The result of this is an urgent trip to A&E. Seven months later, we have the next entry, this time from the GP friend we learn exactly what happened.
“Evidence was emerging of the importance of checking oxygen saturations when assessing people with COVID-19 – I had one in my doctor’s bag at work, but had decided that it would be a good idea to buy one to keep at home. I did not realise at the time how important that decision and the timing of the delivery would be.”
Once in hospital, Michael was immediately put on an oxygen mask. Coronavirus was still the unknown – we we learning about it as we went along. 6th April 2020 and Michael was re-admitted to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. He has a 50% chance of survival. Without it he is 100% likely to die. Whilst in the induced coma, doctors and nurses make use of the empty notepad beside Michael’s bed. Inside, they share stories of what they said and did during this period of time. What shines from these pages is love and hope. We can only imagine what it has been like inside hospitals during the peak of this pandemic. To take the time to leave a note which will enable Michael to fill in the gaps of his six week coma is truly special. We see how specialists have all come together to help our beloved NHS during what has been the worst threat to us in our life time.
“It’s been lovely to look after you today on your birthday! You’ve been a popular chap today – FaceTime calls from your family and a birthday card. You were also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday from about 15 ICU staff around your bedside and a round of applause from staff and one of the other patients! You continue to improve and I know how proud everyone is of you.”
Slowly, Michael starts to improve thanks to the love and care of the numerous NHS staff and his family. The joy from everyone when Michael can talk, when he can breathe a little better, when he can start to piece together exactly what has happened to him, is immense. The style of the book changes now to the prose poems too. In these poems, Michael is adamant that it was his wife, Emma who saved his life. She sent in a duvet to keep him warm, music that she knows he loves, sends an iPad so she can be by his side and reassure him. Anything that she thinks will help bring him back from the brink – and it does. It provides him comfort and strength; the strength he needs to survive. Over time, Michael learns to take it slowly. One day he can walk, the next he is exhausted. Emma is there as a constant. Improvement means he is one step closer to returning home.
“The family watch me. I wonder how it feels for them to see me like this. I am sorry this is me… I walk into the living room I realise that they have taught me how to walk. The gap between hospital and home has closed.”
Once home, Michael realises that March and April have gone and he has very little, if any recollection of it. In the later poems, we see brutal honesty about how this has changed Michael forever. He repeatedly says that he is not the man he was. He may have survived but he has changed inextricably. He has a good ear and a deaf ear, a good eye and a blind eye, a painful knee, one big toe with a nail and the other without and a sore nipple. His whole body has been ravaged by this virus. BUT, he is alive.
“I am getting it that there is a place between life and death. I was there for weeks.”
This book isn’t negative in any way, shape or form. It’s about celebrating life. It’s a consideration of the doctors and nurses who fought daily to keep Michael and everyone else alive. It’s about how love can pull us from the depths of despair. His body has definitely changed, his mind too. We have all been affected this past year because of the current climate. But the end of the novel shows us that we have so much to live for and so much left to do in our lives. We see Michael’s daughter getting ready for university, Michael’s son with his GCSE work on the table and we see his granddaughter, nearly two years old, playing in the garden. Life is not over yet.
“I read their diary-letters to me that they wrote in a little black book when I was in a coma. Why did these strangers try so hard to keep me alive? It’s a kindness I can hardly grasp. The words tell me that they wanted me to survive.”
Final Thoughts Michael Rosen didn’t write this book with publication in mind – he just wanted to piece his life together. I don’t think he quite realised just how poorly he was; how close he was to death. My biggest insecurity tells me that I will never be able to do a good job with reviewing this book. I don’t quite have the words to show the kindness, resilience, determination and love shown within. I loved it on so many levels. When we hear the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ our hearts sink. But in this book, we see the exact opposite. Read it and your heart will be filled to the core. It is magical to think that people are just this kind even when faced with the hardest challenge. For those of us who have had friends or relatives in hospital fighting this horrendous disease, it will give you a snapshot of what is happening behind those closed doors. The staff become extended members of our family because they hold the hands we can’t. We can do this. We can beat this. We will get through it. We have no other option. ♥️