Thursday, December 16, 2010

On My Christmas Bookshelf

I heart books. I can't remember when I haven't had my face buried in one. I love the way they feel in my hands. I love the way they smell. I love the way they look all lined up on my shelves. It's the main reason I don't own a Kindle or a Nook--the efficiency of one can't outweigh the sensory experience of the other (in my opinion). Some of my most treasured volumes are Christmas stories. Perhaps it's the once-a-yearness about them. Perhaps it's the distinct memory of sitting curled up with my chocolate milk while my mother read to us, lights twinkling around us, anticipation in the air. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) we have about a million and seven Christmas books. We have half a dozen different versions of  "The Night Before Christmas," several of "Rudolph" and "Frosty" and "The Christmas Story," and abridged versions of longer tales.

Since I love discovering new books, I thought I'd share my top ten with you in case there is something here that's new to you. They are in no particular order--each is so different and lovely in its own way it would be like comparing apples to broccoli. Enjoy!

Reader's Digest "A Family Christmas" (1984) -- This book is my earliest Christmas literary memory. It is packed full of history (why we haul trees indoors and mail pretty pieces of paper), crafts, recipes, and stories. I remember my mother reading us a story called "A Miserable Merry Christmas." I was too young to understand it, and for some time thought it was an awful story. Until I reread it and surprise! Not so miserable of a story. Herein is contained "Eloise at Christmas Time," excerpts from the Little House books, the very necessary "Yes, Virginia," and more. From the cover alone you can tell it's a much-loved book (it was actually too embarrassing to photograph so I had to search Google Images).

The Crippled Lamb (1994) -- Joshua, the black and white spotted lamb, longed to be like the others. He wondered why he had to limp along with a crippled leg instead of running and playing in the meadow. Joshua often felt left out, but discovers (with the help of his cow friend Abigail) that God has a special plan for each and every one of us. Read it and tell me you don't want to hunt down a lamb and hug it.

"The House Without a Christmas Tree" (1974) -- ten year old Addie doesn't understand why her father refuses to buy a Christmas tree when it is all that she wants. With the help of her quirky Grandmother, she finds a way to bring a tree into the house and Christmas into her father's heart (doesn't that sound all book-jackety? but I wrote that. I'm such a dork). This volume came to me in a bag of old paperbacks my cousin gave me. I remember being so taken in by the beautiful pencil drawings that it almost wouldn't have mattered what the words were. This has been made into a movie but I've never seen it. The book is too delightful to ruin it with a movie.

"Silver Packages" (1987) -- Every year in Appalachia, a boy named Frankie waits beside the snowy tracks for the Christmas train to come through. A rich man tosses presents off the back of the train to all of the needy children--sometimes it is their only present. Year after year Frankie awaits one special present--it isn't until he's grown that he realizes the true gift that the rich man has given him. I was an Elementary Education major in college (no, I'm not a teacher--long story), and as we were doing our junior practicum wrap-up our Integrated Literature professor read us this story. I was in undivided attention mode, while everyone else was in zone-out mode. When she got to the last line of the story her voice broke, and I gave out a pretty audible "Oh!" (the surprised staccato kind, not the slower, understanding kind). As soon as we were dismissed I drove to the book store and had them order it for me. It is still one of my favorites, and it still makes me teary when I read it.

"Christmas Remembered" (1997) -- the author of this volume grew up in the 20s and 30s in rural Wisconsin. On each page of this book he lovingly recounts the Christmases spent with his family on their farm. He very touchingly relates why he firmly believes that Christmas is made by women. The second half has a different tone to it as it is the Christmases he spends as an adult (where views of Christmas are markedly different from those of children). I have never seen this book out in the wild, even to this day, and it's a shame. It's truly delightful. It came to me as follows: several years ago I was flipping through a yard sale book when a baseball card fell out with a picture of Babe Ruth on it. It meant nothing much to me, but my baseball-loving, Babe Ruth-adoring uncle thought it was just wonderful. I gave him the card because let's be real--what was I going to do with it? And as a thank you he gave me one of the most beautifully written books I own. If you can get your mitts on this one, I highly recommend it.

"The Polar Express" (1985) -- pretty sure I don't need to intro this one. I'm sure you know it, right?... young boy bordering on disbelief? gets on a magical Christmas train to the North Pole? is given a special Christmas gift by the big man himself? any of this...ringing a bell? (see what I did there?). I have an audio version of this narrated by Garrison Keillor, the man with the most perfect voice for this story. 

"A Christmas Carol" (1843) -- I know I said no particular order but this might be my favorite. I watched three different versions of it this past weekend, and I've got two more in mind to watch. I never tire of the story of the mean old miser with his heart squeezed dry of human kindness, presented with his own misdeeds against others, who turns a Christmas corner and lets love and good will into his ticker. I love the Victorian London thing, the various forms of merry-making...I don't know why but I've always loved this story. The first one I read was an abridged version that came in my Happy Meal (one year McDonald's gave away a series of 4 books and this was one of them). Not a year goes by that I don't make time for this classic.

"The Giveaway" (1999) -- the Four-Leggeds and Those Who Fly discover that the Two Leggeds have lost their sense of who they are. The birds and animals offer their most precious gift, even at the cost of their own lives, to restore humanity. In the end, it is the Creator who must choose to give away. The Creator gives to humankind the most precious gift of all (from the book jacket). Told in a Native American style, this book isn't as explicit as other Christmas books, though it does have religious undertones. The language is beautiful, and the artwork unique. Not your typical Christmas story.

"The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" (1995) -- Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he never smiles, never laughs. The children call him Mr. Gloomy, and he doesn't mind one bit. One day he is asked by a widow and her son to carve a very special set of figures for Christmas. Gruff Mr. Toomey takes on the job, letting the widow and her son come to watch him work. Slowly we see Mr. Gloomy become less so, until the day he eventually (GASP!) laughs :)  I found this book in the children's section of my college library - they had a huge assortment of books for the education majors to make use of. I lost myself in this book, forgetting where I was and tearing up at one point (thank heavens no one was around!). This was another book I drove straight to the book store for.

"Christmas: Penhaligon's Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose" (1989) -- this book was on the sale table at Borders one year, just tossed there like it was nothing. Most of the scent is gone, but when you first open it there's a little whiff and then it is no more (until next year). Chock full of poems, stories, excerpts, and beautiful artwork, I can't wait for the time to come when I can dive into this book without the response "Why are you reading Christmas books already?" It's the perfect size for a hard-back book, and it has one of those nifty bookmark ribbons inside that you never see anymore. I had no idea who Penhaligon was (I thought it was a famous person I had never heard of) - but they are London perfumers. 

Well, that certainly turned into a longer post than intended. Most of these are available online, just in case you found something you're interested in. And if you've got any favorites, please share them in the comments -- it's always a treat to discover new reading material.

Ta for now!


  1. I really enjoyed your reviews of all your favourite Christmas books...I love books, they add such a richness to life. Their words inspire us and the pictures are little mini works of art and satisfy your soul.

  2. I shall be on the lookout for some of these books at our local secondhand book shops. That's where I got my Christmas books, too :)

  3. I read The House Without a christmas tree when I was in school becos I was so intrigued by the title. My kids saw The Polar Express when it came out and promptly wanted the book so we bought it. Altho' I don't celebrate Christmas, I like stories related to Christmas becos they usually have feel-good endings and about family.

  4. I love children's books more than anything! So sad when my kids got too big for me to have that excuse but I still read them occasionally. So today I went to the library and got The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (already read and loved it!) and The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog. Can't get the others there so will have to look around, they sound fabulous! Thanks for sharing this ~ Mary

  5. Originally, I was an elementary teacher and have always loved children's books. I have many of the ones you have, but moved on to university level teaching and administration in the early 1980's and haven't kept up with the literature, so you have several on your list that are new to me, that I need to look for to share with my grandchildren.



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