Chestnuts roasting round the Christmas fire…
‘Christmas just isn’t Christmas without any presents’ says Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, with a heartfelt but petulant tone, in one of my all-time favourite books, LITTLE WOMEN. In fact, Christmas proves to be a bit of a turning point for Jo, as she wakes to the grey dawn morning and the prospect of doing good works for the festive season. She’s sent out by her long suffering mother to tend to a poor woman with a newborn baby, and sees that others really do have a much harder time of it than she does. Lesson learnt.
Anyway, this puts me in mind of the forthcoming holidays, and the children’s books that have meant most to me over the years. Another classic is ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by the Prince Edward Island raised L M Montgomery. Here’s a book I return to with huge pleasure, delighting in Anne with an ‘e’, her freckles and carrot-coloured hair and her indomitable spirit. There’s a wonderful scene in which the shy, bumbling Matthew Cuthbert realises his charge is always dressed in plain clothes, and sets out to buy her something really special for Christmas; a dress with puffed sleeves. But in the local store, he is overwhelmed by shyness and asks for first a garden rake, and then hayseed, before finally stammering out what he really wants. Anne’s tears at the sight of the soft, brown gloria dress, shining like silk that Matthew has finally managed to purchase make his agonies all the more poignant.
In our house, boys abound, and while as a teenager, I used to read my little sister anything featuring the inimitable MIFFY by Dutch writer and illustrator Dick Bruna, my own brood were more action packed or magical in bent. C S Lewis wins us all round – in Narnia it’s ‘always winter, never Christmas’, and long car journeys were spent on the motorways listening to the BBC tapes of PRINCE CASPIAN or THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. If not that, and we weren’t all sobbing over Michael Morpurgo’s THE BUTTERFLY LION, then Stephen Fry’s rendition of J K Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series proved a hit as we lived with Harry creeping through the corridors of Hogwarts in the Christmas holidays, his invisibility cloak shielding him from discovery. Those recordings are so good that I came home the other to find my sons listening to them in the kitchen. Who said being over twenty was too old for a good children’s book? Not me, that’s for sure.
So, whether you’re wrapping up the age old toddler’s favourite GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown, the amazing Judith Kerr’s THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA for a five year old, or the heart-breaking GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM by Michelle Magorian for a narrative loving primary school child, enjoy your Christmas books, read them again – and don’t forget to follow tradition and shout out Clement C Moore’s THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS after your mince pies and sherry. As I’ve spotted a couple of furry friends scuttling behind our fridge, I really hope the following will be true in my home on Christmas Eve.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…’
Festive Greetings one and all!