Music isn’t the only thing that evokes memories and helps us celebrate the holidays. Around this time of year we also get out our stash of holiday books; their beautiful (or, sometimes, comical) illustrations and unfailingly heart-warming stories add some welcome cheer as the days grow shorter and darker and colder. Here are a few of our family favorites.
Raymond Briggs, Father Christmas. I just love this charming curmudgeonly Santa. Who doesn’t sympathize with the dreariness of having to plod off to work on a cold day? And whose spirits wouldn’t be restored by a little wine and cookies at mid-shift? Inevitably, at some point in the next little while, one of us is sure to look out the window and exclaim “Bloomin’ snow!” But at the end of the day, it’s all about making merry with the people (or, if you’re Father Christmas, the pets) you love.
John Burningham, Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present. This is the story of the little Santa who could. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail nor transportation mishaps of any type will stop him from delivering that last gift. It’s part of Burningham’s genius to end his long saga of misadventures with just the right question about Harvey’s present: “What do you think it was?”
The Twelve Days of Christmas. Growing up, I loved Jack Kent’s humorous version in which the ardent lover brings the entire growing list every single time. Things get pretty crowded by the end: you can’t blame his beloved for trying to run away as he pursues her with that one last partridge in a pear tree! That version doesn’t seem to be available any more, and the copy I used to read is back in Vancouver with my folks. Happily, we have two versions of our own out here, one Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated edition, the other a whimsical one with illustrations by John O’Brien that is rather in the Jack Kent spirit (the poor beloved does not find her headache much helped by the drummers around her bed).
We have a couple of other lovely Jan Brett books for the holidays, one her Christmas Trolls, the other her gorgeous version of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. In the spirit of never having too much of a good thing, we also have Tasha Tudor’s The Night Before Christmas, which is equally beautiful in a very different way.
Another of my own childhood favorites is also by Tasha Tudor: The Doll’s Christmas, which tells the adventures of the two dolls Sethany Anne and Nicey Melinda as they prepare for and host a very elegant Christmas party in their home, the equally elegant Pumpkin House. Their lucky owners get to come too, with their friends!
A more recent addition to our collection is Jan Fearnley’s charming Little Robin Red Vest, which tells the story of how a selfless little bird gives away all his sweaters to colder, needier friends until he is left huddled on a snowy roof trying to stay warm. Luckily he’s scooped up by someone with a “gruff, jolly” voice whose kindly wife pulls a thread “from a big, bright red coat” and knits him a cozy vest to wear.
Another beloved Christmas book from my past is Ezra Jack Keats’s gorgeously gold and sepia-tinted edition of The Little Drummer Boy. This one too still lives in Vancouver, but I just discovered that it’s still in print, so may be next year it will be the traditional Advent book for my children. Par-rum-pum-pum-pum!
I’m happy with this year’s choice, though, which my daughter was reading to me tonight (since I have no voice!). It’s the wonderful new edition of Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy, with illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Three lonely hearts, three wishes, a girl, a doll, and a home without children–how can it help but end well? What a treat it was, after a couple of hard days, to sit and listen to my lovely girl reading it with such pleasure and feeling, and making sure to show me every affectionately detailed picture. That nice experience inspired this little post–which I hope will inspire you to tell me about your favorite Christmas books.