12 Days of Christmas – James Foley

From Perth in Western Australia it is great to have James the stupendous illustrator of the wonderful Viking books reveal a Christmas memory of a present that wasn’t sitting under a tree!



One of my favourite memories of Christmas is also one of my earliest memories. I would have been 4 years old at the most; my brother was almost 2, and my sister was not yet born. My little brother and I shared a bedroom on the second floor of our family’s two-story house in Fremantle. We moved from there when I was five, so I only have a few vague memories of that house: my little art table set up in the kitchen so I could paint while my parents made lunch; the old TV in the lounge where my brother and I sat watching Looney Tunes; and the massive backyard with the tall limestone fence, over which was a mysterious, wild, empty lot. We once lost a kite over there and my uncle had to pull it out of a pile of dead branches, cursing through his bushy moustache. But, I’m getting side-tracked.

My Christmas memory is the most vivid of my time in that house; we received a special gift that stayed with us for many years. It was Christmas morning. For some reason I remember Mum and Dad waking us up, rather than the other way around. They told my brother and I that we had a present waiting for us outside. I didn’t know what it could be. A dinosaur? Some chocolate? A castle? … A chocolate castle? Mum and Dad told us to open the blinds and look down into the backyard.

My brother and I pulled the blind aside and squished our faces to the glass.

There it was, four skinny legs planted firmly in the grass. Waiting for us. Beckoning us to come and play. It was a brand-new swing set. We lost our tiny minds.

We ran outside in our pjs. Never mind breakfast or other presents; the swing set was the only thing that existed. There was a plastic orange swing attached by two crinkly chains, a pair of shiny black roman rings connected by a green metal cross-bar, and a two-seat glider swing. We were in heaven.

I don’t remember how long we played on the swings that morning, but I remember them being a fixture of our collective childhood from then on.

The swings travelled with us to our next house. Eventually they began to rust; the plastic warped and cracked in the sun; the swing chains tangled. For one brief afternoon the hollow metal tubes housed a family of wasps (play time was over pretty quickly that day). And my brother, my sister and I grew too old and too big for the swing seats. We either gave the swings away or dismantled them to put on the verge collection. It seems a shame that I don’t remember exactly what happened to them, and that we never had some sort of ceremony to say goodbye to them. They were always there in our backyard waiting to play, and I was so excited to receive them that first Christmas morning.

And even though I don’t have my own swing set now, I look out for them … and if I spot an unattended children’s playground, I have to jump on the swings.


James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator. His books include In The Lion (Walker Books, 2012), The Amity Kids Adventures (2013), The Last Viking (Fremantle Press, 2011) and The Last Viking Returns (Fremantle Press, 2014).

In The Lion was selected for the International Youth Library’s White Raven list in 2013. The Last Viking won the 2012 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Crystal Kite Award, the 2012 WA Young Readers’ Hoffman Award, and a 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia Junior Judges Award. It was shortlisted for a further four awards.

James is an ambassador for Books In Homes and Room To Read Australia, and is the current Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI Australia West. His interests include comics, film, psychology, science, history (anything nerdy really), as well as yoga and social justice.

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