Christmas Books for Christmas Time

Ah, Christmas. That busy time of the year when families come together, follow family traditions, and generally stay inside eating, sleeping, and watching television despite the gorgeous summer weather outside. If we did this on any other summer day people would think we were mad, but because it’s Christmas no-one bats an eyelid.

This year I’m heading away to house-sit at a friend’s place over the Christmas holiday. It will just be me by myself on the 25th, and so I have complete say over how festive I want the day to be… or not to be. At the moment I’m thinking of just having a relaxing day without too much Christmassy stuff – a sleep in, a walk along the beach, maybe check out a movie. Pure bliss!

But don’t worry, I’m not anti-Christmas. Over the past weeks I’ve been reading and listening to lots of Christmas stories to get in the festive spirit. I’ve read novels, short stories, kids’ books, and more, and here are some of my favourites to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Cover of Skipping ChristmasSkipping Christmas by John Grisham

What would you do if your daughter went travelling overseas, and you didn’t want to celebrate Christmas without her? Skip Christmas and book an overseas cruise, of course! At least, that’s what the Kranks have planned, and so they buy their tickets, get their tans, and start dieting to look their best on their tropical holiday. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, and the Kranks’ neighbours won’t let them off easily with not celebrating the Christmas season …

This is a fun, light read, and I bet you’ll see some of your own neighbours in the characters living in Hemlock Street.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but until I’d read this, I’d always thought Truman Capote and Al Capone were the same person. I couldn’t wait to read about how an American gangster celebrated Christmas as a kid!  Needless to say, this wasn’t the book I expected it to be…

What this book was was a lovely stroll down memory lane. A beautifully-illustrated short story, it takes you back to a simpler time, when your biggest Christmas worry was whether 7-year-old you and your 60-something-year-old friend would have enough money to buy the secret ingredient to go in your Christmas fruitcake to send to the President. A lovely quick read that will leave you feeling sentimental about childhood Christmas memories.

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol by Richard Curtis

Hands up if you grew up with Blackadder and his friends Baldrick, Darling, Queenie, et al! If so, you don’t want to miss their take on Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

It’s Victorian England, and when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set out to reward the good and the generous, they come across Ebenezer Blackadder, ‘the nicest man in England’. While in Dicken’s story, the villain comes good after being visited by Christmas ghosts, this version has the opposite outcome – the lure of wealth and power can turn even the kindest of souls.

This has all the humour of the Blackadder shows you love, and is a highly enjoyable hour of audio. Plus, it’s written by the same Richard Curtis who brought us that other guilty Christmas treat, Love Actually, so what’s not to love?

Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders

Moment of truth – I’m not actually finished this book just yet, but that doesn’t matter. This book is fantastic, and I am loving every minute I’m reading it!

Detailing the traditions of Christmas, where they came from, and how they came to be in the form we recognise today. Christmas trees, yule logs, carollers at the front door – OK, it *is* a very British and Euro-centric book –  this book is a wealth of interesting tidbits that might help you out at a pub quiz some time in the future. Maybe it’s just because I’m a language geek, but the way this book uses excerpts of ‘ye olde English’ to illustrate the information is one of my favourite parts of this book. For example, did you know that Christmas carols were originally written as ‘macaronic carols’ (carols written in two different languages). I didn’t know that word – I had visions of sheet music made out of macaroni elbows!

A perfect read for the geek in your life.

The Best Christmas Present in the World by Michael Morpurgo

I’ve always been a fan of Michael Morpurgo – I remember reading My Friend Walter as a 10-year-old, and being struck by the way he told the story of a modern day girl and an Elizabethan ghost. I’ve read many more of his stories in the years since, and this short story has become one of my annual Christmas reads.

When people get older, and move in to nursing homes and retirement villages, they leave behind furniture and other belongings that tell the stories of their life. In an abandoned desk, we find a letter telling the story of the great Christmas Day truce and football game between the British and German soldiers fighting each other in 1914. It’s a lovely story, and shows that even they we all have our differences, we have more in common. A beautiful book to share with children 8 years and up.

Whatever you choose to do this December, I hope you have a lovely summer break, and a Happy New Year, and remember to check out Christchurch City Libraries for more Christmas reads, watches, and music.

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete – Christmas Greetings to you all, and see you all in 2019.

Should authors experiment?

In the past few years there have been many adult authors trying their hand at writing books for children and teens.  Just because they’re best-selling adult authors doesn’t always mean they will write best-selling (or even good) books for younger audiences.

Clive Cussler, for example, has written dozens of books for adults and is an author who is always on our best-seller lists. However, back in 2006, he released a book for children called The Adventures of Vin Fiz.  It was so condescending and old-fashioned that I gave up after a few pages.

John Grisham is another adult author who recently turned to Young Adult fiction, with his Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer books.  I haven’t tried it myself (I couldn’t bring myself to do so), but the reviews have been pretty bad all round.

There are equally as many adult authors who have written some amazing books for children and teens.

Should authors experiment or should they stick with what they’re good at?  What do you think?