Each month, American Express Essentials highlights one definitive literary work, old or new, across any and all genres. The only determinant is quality: a book that makes life more vivid, more inspiring – a work that you feel compelled to share. An absolute must-read. 

Up this month, and concluding our reviews for this year, is something quite different: The Smelly Sprout, written by Allan Plenderleith and first published in 2007. Comprising fewer than 50 pages and with only one or two sentences on each page, you won’t be surprised to discover that this is a book intended primarily for children.

Allan Plenderleith’s heart-warming yarn of an unloved and, let’s say it, slightly overwrought Brassica oleracea (yep, a Brussels sprout) is one that will appeal to anyone in touch with their inner child, regardless of whether they are 4 or 104.

The tale begins on Christmas Day with the preparation of a festive dinner, but takes an unexpected turn as one humble ingredient lies forgotten at the bottom of the vegetable basket: a little green sprout. Without wanting to reveal too many plot points, the poor sprout is cast out into the winter cold and proceeds to introduce himself to a series of classic Yuletide characters in the hope of finally meeting one that will accept him for what he is: an under-appreciated edible who tends to arouse strong and, sadly, often quite hostile reactions.

Is he just too cool for Yule, too green to seek out a happy home? These questions and more will be answered as the epic journey – well, at least for a smelly sprout – takes our hero on an array of adventures, before concluding with a wonderfully heartfelt and satisfying resolution.

The author’s skill lies in concocting a truly original narrative that subverts the conventions of traditional children’s stories, especially Christmas-themed ones, and tells this offbeat story with enormous charm and a humour that will appeal to readers young and old.

More than that, the tale encourages children to question their own perception of happiness and to understand that they won’t always be accepted by everyone, as they root for the sprout in his determined bid to stave off loneliness and find a happy home.

Explore Further

If The Smelly Sprout whets your appetite for more Christmas stories, or if you’re in need of a tale for children not yet able to read, why not introduce the little ones in your life to a book without any words at all: The Snowman. Written by Raymond Briggs, who sadly passed away in August 2022, it is today recognised as a timeless classic. You could even encourage them to watch the equally captivating animated film of the book. The US version of the film (shown below) even featured an introduction by legendary rock star David Bowie.

As a fun postscript, Bowie’s son, the movie director Duncan Jones, later discovered the snowman scarf that Bowie wears in the film, which had been kept in storage… 

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