The words of A Christmas Carol filled the living room. The fire roared in the potbelly stove, and homemade eggnog warmed our hands. My older brother’s fireside readings are a Christmas tradition I miss dearly and one I want to reinstate in my own home. But what to read?
I called the usual subjects — family and friends — for suggestions.
“I’m old timey and easily moved to tears, especially by the heady cocktail made from mother love, bittersweet story, and nostalgia,” said Frank. “So this is an easy call for me: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban [used hardcover from Barnes & Noble, $19.99]. It’s basically O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi but with super sweet illustrations, and it takes place between a mother otter and her son instead of a husband and wife. My mother used to read it to me.”
“A funny Christmas story is Countdown to Christmas by Bill Peet [used paperback, $8 on Amazon],” offered Nancy. “Santa gets groovy. He gets a slick polyester suit, spray paints his sleigh psychedelic, and tells the reindeer he’s retiring — he’s going to get a jet. It takes a while to read through it because it’s so funny. Another favorite around here is The Last Straw by Frederick Thury [new paperback, $4.33 on Amazon]. The camel thinks he’s so strong, so he keeps taking more and more gifts along the journey to Bethlehem. He’s humbled. The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden [new paperback, $4.12 on Amazon] also gets a read this time of year.”
“We celebrate St. Lucia’s Day in our home,” explained Meg, “so we always read Hanna’s Christmas by Melissa Peterson [used hardcover, $63.88 at Barnes & Noble]. A charming story about the Swedish tradition.”
“Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt [new hardcover, $3.04 on Amazon] is an endearing and touching picture book for kids,” offered Margaret. “I also enjoy A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, who is a marvelous writer [new hardcover, $10.82 on Amazon]. A short novel, semi-autobiographical — a bittersweet story about two relatives, one young, one old, sharing what will be their last Christmas together.”
“Some of our favorite Christmas reading is picture books,” offered Lissa. “Even the older kids get excited when I pull them out every year. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is a tearjerker [new hardcover, $9.02 on Amazon]. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett [new hardcover, $3.90 on Amazon] has a fun, Scandinavian flavor. The quarrelsome trolls steal all the Christmas gifts and decorations from the little girl’s house, but when she tracks them down, she teaches the trolls how Christmas is about giving. We also enjoy The Trees Kneel at Christmas by Maud Hart Lovelace [used hardcover, $4.28 at Barnes & Noble], which is a beautiful, short-chapter book about two Lebanese immigrant children living in Brooklyn, sneaking out to Prospect Park on Christmas Eve in hopes of seeing the trees kneel at midnight as their grandmother has told them happens in the old country. Goosebumps! In Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola [new paperback, $2.37 on Amazon], we love the bustle of preparations for Christmas, the Italian-village customs. And we adore The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson [new paperback, $5.99 on Amazon]. My husband reads it aloud every year.”
“Hilda van Stockum has a wonderful story,” offered Anita, “called Kersti and St. Nicholas [used hardcover, $69.99 on Amazon]. A sweet, family story about a big family and the doted-on, imperious baby sister. Darling illustrations and a good length to read aloud for a few nights leading up to St. Nicholas Day.”
“There’s an exceptional little anthology of Christmas printed by Neumann Press called The Christmas Story Book [new hardcover, $19.85 on Amazon],” suggested Bill. “These are mostly for children, but the stories will move the most hardened heart. They’re really that good.”
“At the insistence of our adult children,” explained Dan, “we read The Gifts of the Child Christ and Port in a Storm by George MacDonald every Christmas [new paperback, $20 on Amazon]. They love both the story and the memory of reading it on so many Christmases.”
“There are a number of very nice, old, mostly illustrated Christmas books available free through the Gutenberg project at gutenberg.org” offered Alex. “Many are also free for the Kindle on Amazon.”