Saturday, December 13, 2008

MY TEN BEST CHRISTMAS BOOKS

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER!
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On this cold, dark December night, those of us in North Dakota are beginning to experience the effects of some truly dreadful weather that has been threatening the region. Tomorrow, the temperatures promise to plunge into the deep freeze and we will have 40 MPH winds and snow. Oh, joy, a December blizzard.
But I have found at least a modicum of the Christmas Spirit over the week, thanks, in no small part, to my blogging friends. I appreciate your comments so very, very much!
This past week was unusually mild, and I took advantage of it to get some Christmas shopping done. (Due to having a bad knee I mostly let my fingers do the walking on the Internet for Christmas shopping this year.)

Anyway, the mild weather is now history. But Dan, myself and the doggies are snug, warm and cozy in our house and have bacon and eggs for brunch tomorrow, and frying chicken for supper. In between, I hope to decorate the house (we had planned to get our tree tomorrow but THAT won't happen!).

And while decorating, I will bring out the Christmas books that have been tucked away for a year. Do you have favorite Christmas books? I do, including Christmas art, anthologyand song books, coffee table books, mini gift books, etc., dedicated to the subject. But there are other books that tell a Christmas story (not necessarily THE Christmas Story).

I was thinking about my favorite "Christmas story" books the other day, and decided to Google "Best Christmas Books". I found several such lists. From them, and by putting on my thinking cap, I came up with my own list (in NO particular order):

1. "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (novella).

2. "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas (I have the audio CD of Thomas reading this lovely memoir).

3. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote (novella).

4. "(The Story of) Holly and Ivy" by Rumer Godden (children's book).

5. "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (short story).

6. "A Visit From St. Nicholas ('Twas the Night Before Christmas)" by Clement Clarke Moore (illustrated poem). (There is a link to this poem in the post below.) (The best choice out of many editions available: The one illustrated by Tasha Tudor.)

7. "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg (children's book).

8. "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tale/children's book). I found this book illustrated by the wonderful Rachel Isadora in a thrift shop this fall and was thrilled to no end!

9 . "A Cup of Christmas Tea" by Tom Hegg (illustrated poem).

10. "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson (novella).

Some of the lists I found included "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" by Frank P. Church, but it is not a book. Rather, it was a newspaper essay/editorial. Therefore, I excluded it from my list, but it is a "must read" every Christmas. Here is a link: http://www.infostarbase.com/tnr/xmas/virginia.html

There were several books on various lists that didn't make MY list:

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss (I have nothing against this book, it just didn't make my list, that's all).

The Nutcracker" by E.T.A. Hoffman/Maurice Sendak (nutcrackers and Maurice Sendak freak me out).

"Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott (not exclusively a Christmas book, and too treacly for me).
"The Christmas Box" by Richard Paul Evans (ditto on the treacle).

There are several books on my list that may not be as familiar to you as the story of Tiny Tim and Scrooge, or "A Visit From St. Nicholas". But I hope I can convince you to check out these less well-known tales:

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever": As one Amazon.com review puts it, this book focuses on the poorly-behaved children of the Herdman family, who discover the true meaning of Christmas through participation in a church play about the birth of Jesus.

The six Herdmans are "absolutely and without question the worst kids in the entire history of the world. They are guilty of every unmentionable childhood crime and have thought of more than a few original ones. When they take over the church Christmas pageant (although none of them has ever attended church, much less heard the Christmas story before), the first Christmas becomes new and real in some pretty surprising ways."

If you ever have a chance to see this story produced as a play, go! It is a not-to-be-forgotten experience!


Another of my beloved Christmas books, "A Cup of Christmas Tea" by Tom Hegg, is, I suspect, mostly an upper Midwestern U.S. favorite.

Hegg, from Minnesota, wrote "A Cup of Christmas Tea" in 1981, when his pastor asked him to write something for his church's 125th anniversary. Drawing on childhood memories, he composed "a straightforward, sentimental poem that brought tears to his audience's eyes."

With wonderful illustrations by Warren Hanson, Hegg tells the story of a young man's reluctant, obligatory Christmas visit to his great aunt's house: "But boy! I didn't want to go. Oh, what a bitter pill/To see an old relation and how far she'd gone downhill."

But once he's passed the trendy Minneapolis suburbs and gotten to the older section of town and arrived at his aunt's house:

"We went inside and then
before I knew how to react
Before my eyes and ears and nose
was Christmas past, alive, intact!

The scent of candied oranges, of cinnamon and pine,
The antique wooden soldiers in their military line,
The porcelain Nativity I'd always loved so much,
The Dresden and the crystal I'd been told I mustn't touch.

My spirit fairly bolted like a child out of class
And danced among the ornaments of calico and glass.
Like magic I was six again, deep in a Christmas spell.
Steeped in the million memories
That the boy inside knew well. "

After all that, if I still can't convince you to buy the book, here is the link to the poem: http://www.atthewell.com/christmas/tea/

And last but not least,"(The Story of) Holly and Ivy". It is set in England, and tells the tale of a doll who needs a girl to love her, an orphan girl who wishes with all her heart for a grandmother and a toy shop doll, and a family who needs a child to love. Need I say more?

By the way, while I was searching the Internet for this book, I found a book I had been looking for for decades. I learned that Rumer Godden also wrote "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower", the story of two Japanese dolls who come to live with two lonely English girls. I originally read this book as a novella in a magazine when I was about 10. I have tried to find it ever since.

I can't tell you how much I, a doll-crazy girl, loved the story of these dolls and the two little girls who cared for them. I have never forgotten how the girls cut up little snips of cotton thread for rice for the dolls' bowls.



Also, on one list I discovered a book that I feel will be included in my future annual lists: "Christmas at Fairacre" by Miss Read. It's about a family that moves to a small English town just before Christmas. After reading the reviews on Amazon and other sites, I realize I have been missing out on a treasure in Miss Read. I ordered a used copy that contains several other Miss Read Christmas stories.

Oh, by the way, when I was writing about "A Cup of Christmas Tea" I didn't mention that after the book came out, an entire line of "Christmas Tea" china was designed. Over the years I have acquired the teapot, two cups and saucers, and a few accessories which I proudly display on my coffee table at Christmas.

Hmm, I think it's time to take a break. pull out a Christmas book and have "A Cup of Christmas Tea".


8 comments:

Leanne said...

what an interesting post Julie! I have a few of the Mis read books, but not that one. i'll have to keep my eyes open for some of those bookrecommmendations.

I love your christmas china with the holly! But as you know, I love holly!!
Leanne x

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

I have another Christmas book for you - The Children of Green Knowe. It's about a little boy who goes to spend the Christmas holidays with his great grandmother at the family home, Green Knowe. There he discovers the ghosts of three children that died in the Great Plague and who are his ancestors. It's a beautiful story filled with magic and storytelling, and a little sad also, but the beautiful sadness that is a part of living. I loved it when I read it as a kid and highly recommend it! I read it to my students every year before the holiday break.

Dona Davis

Pieceful Afternoon said...

Oh how I loved this post about books. I find so many good books to read from your blog. I am on my way to the local library website to request those that I can find there.

I was not allowed books as a child - my mother had very strict rules - so I just devour whatever I can get my hands on now. I should make a list of my favorites - though I don't think I have enough for a christmas list - I do have enough for several "favorites" lists.

We read The Best Christmas Pageant over and over - it is such a wonderful book - oh those Herdmans. :-)

Thanks for sharing - I know have more fun books to look up.

Merry christmas - the snow coming your way just passed through here and we are certainly done with it- that's for sure.

Pieceful Afternoon said...

Oh - and I have that same tea cup - I love to have my tea in a fancy cup!

lila said...

You have such a wonderful store of books and Christmas memories!I was doll-crazy too and even had an aunt living in Japan who sent me Japanese dolls, I have never read the story you mentioned, though.
I know Tasha Tudor and Rumor Godden were friends...both loving dolls, even as adults!
The information about the "Cup of Christmas Tea" is very interesting, and the china il lovely! Enjoy a cup for me!

Shopgirl said...

Merry Christmas....Thank you for coming to my post this year....you are a sweet lady and I am blessed to have had you come visit me often. Your, Mary

Mrs. Staggs said...

Julie, I can't believe that you haven't read the Miss Read books, with your love of reading. They are some of my very favorite books,and I have read them over and over again.
I've never read A Cup of Christmas Tea, but I will now. It sounds so very nice.
I buy the little children in my family Christmas books every year as their gift from me. I inscribe the year and a little message to each one of them. They have so much, but those books are something that they really look forward to now,and they will have them for their own children one day. My sister and my neice say they enjoy them too, because they still read to the very smallest ones.

Utah Grammie said...

Thank you so much for this post Julie! I have sent the links to my daughters so they can share with my grand daughters! And I will come back many times to be certain I have all the books listed (some on Santa's list for me) So, that you truly!
Colleen