Melrose and Croc: Together at Christmas by Emma Chichester-Clark

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Melrose and Croc: Together at Christmas by Emma Chichester-Clark

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Heart-warming, sweet Christmas story of how Melrose the dog and Croc the tiny crocodile met (and stopped being sad) one Christmas. Pretty paperback edition. Ideal for Christmas or Christmas build-up for children aged 3-6, unless you are a very serious Christian.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 32 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 0007225938

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The creator of Blue Kangaroo and Lily has come up with another pair of characters who are bound to become popular with children and parents alike.

Melrose is a large yellow dog (though before reading my daughter had a theory that it might be a 'mummy lion' type of creature). Croc is a tiny green crocodile. They, curiously, inhabit a world which is (apart from them) populated by normal human beings. I like that as normally you either get human or animal worlds (although some books mix the two well, for example the enduring classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea) and using animal characters allows more flexibility with the story telling while the essentially human character of the world means the animal characters acquire a bit of magical quality.

This instalment tells us how Melrose and Croc met for the first time and is fundamentally based on a rom-com principle. Somehow, though, what would be a supremely cheesy story in a film for grown ups works out as a very much appropriate one for children, especially as the characters involved are a yellow dog and a green crocodile. If I can pick a fault in the pair it is that they are both male - my daughter was rather desperate to make one of them a girl and as references to croc as 'he' are rarer she decided that maybe, just maybe, Croc is a girl after all.

Melrose, who is somehow posh, slightly melancholic and withdrawn character with a fancy flat in a Georgian townhouse and a red sports car, has just moved in. He's decorating his flat with Christmas garlands but gives up on buying the tree as he has nobody to share the Christmas with. Croc, a somehow more excitable and bit more naive character, has come to town to see Father Christmas at Harridges, but he's too late and misses him. They both feel unhappy and rather lonely until their moods are lifted by music and dancing at a skating rink - they bump into each other and a shared cup of tea leads to an invitation for Christmas together - and from then on a friendship blossoms.

The story is told in a simple, understated and effective way. The sadness of Melrose lonely in his flat and the excitement of Croc spending the night on the bench looking at sea waiting to go and see Father Christmas next day, and his subsequent disappointment are palpable; as is the joy of dancing on ice and the final satisfaction of Christmas shared between friends. There is more text in this book than in the Blue Kangaroo series, though it's still a short read and fundamentally a picture book for nursery and maybe early school age.

The illustrations are in the instantly recognisable Chichester-Clark style, though somehow richer in detail and colour than in the Blue Kangaroo books and the world is decidedly urban and middle-class (and bit tongue in cheek, too, which is a bonus for parents).

The copy I had is a paperback but it has been done up as a Christmas edition and the title is printed on the cover in high-gloss red, there are embossed Christmas tree and bauble patterns with discreet glitter and the paper is thick and of good quality so the book is a pleasure to handle.

I loved this book and so did my 5 year old. It's a classic heart-warming Christmas story executed in an enchanting manner with some humour and some magic. The characters have great promise (there are several more Melrose and Croc books out there already) and the story is a joy to read. The motif of 'lonely at Christmas' is a good occasion to talk to your child about importance of friendship and sharing, not just material objects but also occasions and festivals. There are many people who are lonely in our society and who usually feel it more at Christmas - this story might be a good occasion to talk about those as well.

In Poland, the table laid for a Christmas meal has traditionally one extra place setting for an unexpected guest who might come knocking at your door on that day, whoever they might be. [ Melrose and Croc is - albeit lightly - written in the same spirit of opening your heart and your life to the Other.

As in the Merry Christmas, Blue Kangaroo!, the Christian aspect of the festival is absent, so not for Christians for whom the hope of Christmas is of a spiritual nature and who think the whole point is lost if it isn't about welcoming Christ in your heart and life. Otherwise, wholeheartedly recommended for pre-schoolers and young primary school aged children.

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Jill said:

Oh, I really enjoyed reading this review. Your best in ages. And I think I shall buy the book for my nephew for Christmas.

Wendy said:

This sounds right up my daughters street!