Book review: The Manor House Stories: Lady Davina Dove : A Christmas Story by Jani Tully Chaplin

The secret is out! And the good news for children is that Downton Abbey is not the only big house where dreams and dramas are an exciting part of upstairs and downstairs life.

The Manor House Stories
The Manor House Stories

Meet the noblest bird in the county… Lord Peregrine Falcon, a high-flying Edwardian gentleman who rules the roost at his magnificent stately home, the Manor House, with his charming wife Lady Davina Dove.

They have a nest full of flighty youngsters and their adventures deep in the heart of the English countryside are causing quite a flutter.

A Christmas Story is just one of 12 beautiful little books in an enchanting and nostalgic series, The Manor House Stories, which come hot off the presses with a glowing endorsement from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

‘The Manor House Stories create a wonderful and detailed world in miniature full of truth and consequence, like all good stories should, giving us lessons about life but in the most charming way imaginable,’ he notes in his Foreword.

The inspirational tales come from the pen of the talented author and illustrator Jani Tully Chaplin and were written about 25 years ago for her two children when she was living in Devon.

They remained undiscovered until a chance encounter in Corfu in 2011 when she met her publisher Mark Hendriksen. Since then, Chaplin’s magical watercolour illustrations have been added and the series of 12 stories finally brought back to life.

All the books feature a flock of lovable birds who, whether they live upstairs or downstairs, play a vital part in looking after Manor House. In the gardens, the village and on the farm, the birds, along with their animal friends, work together in harmony with nature to preserve rural traditions and an idyllic way of life.

Each story follows the adventures of the characters and their duties, from the lowliest scullery maid to the head of the family, and from time to time surprising visitors arrive at the house, including a princess and a pirate.

Top of the tree is Lord Peregrine Falcon, who cares greatly about the creatures that live on his estate, as well as his loving wife Lady Davina Dove and their mischievous fledglings.

Below stairs is an eclectic cast of hard-working feathered friends. From Patience Pigeon the Nanny, who has her wings full with four youngsters in her care, and Chesterfield Penguin the Butler with his never-ending list of jobs to Delia Duck the Cook making pies and puds, the Manor House is a veritable nest of activity.

In A Christmas Story, the festive season is just around the corner at the Manor House. Everyone is busy preparing for the merrymaking. Presents have been bought and made, the stockings have been hung, the Christmas tree is decorated and Delia Duck is making all the traditional treats like dates stuffed with marzipan, mince pies, cakes and star-shaped biscuits.

Lord Peregrine, meanwhile, has invited his friend, the famous naturalist Sir David Bunnyburrow, to stay with them over Christmas. And when Christmas Eve arrives, Father Christmas rides in by moonlight and Lady Davina’s lifelong secret wish comes true.

And to get youngsters in the festive spirit, they can help mum bake Delia Duck’s starlight biscuits Christmas tree decorations courtesy of a yummy recipe at the end of the book.

Next in the series is Cream & Sugar the Milkmaids in an adventure called ‘Snowfall and Snowballs’ which sees the Manor House in a winter wonderland of snow and the arrival of a mysterious visitor in a beautiful sleigh drawn by two large rabbits.

Helped by the little Bluetits, milkmaids Cream and Sugar, Erminetine the Stoat makes an ice sculpture for a dinner party held in honour of the visitor. And they are each rewarded with special gifts which have been brought all the way from Russia.

As an added bonus, there is a chance to learn how to make an ice bowl with fully illustrated, step-by-step instructions.

Lavishly produced with atmospheric, timeless illustrations and stories that are warm, wise and acutely observant, these exceptional books are ideal as special gifts or as a series to collect and treasure.

(Mark Hendriksen Publishing, hardback, £7.99 each)