'St Nicholas and St Valentine' from What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
Novel Excerpt (1872)
Badly injured and immobile, Katy is adapting to her new and limited life, and from her bed she makes Christmas extra special for her younger siblings.
With only Jennings to separate this and Alcott, we now return to North American children's classics. Katy Carr is one of the Victorian 'angry girls' that followed Jo March, and her Christmas chapter finds her coming to terms with her situation. She has begun to learn patience from the extraordinarily good Cousin Helen, and finds that her new state of both mind and body allow her to think and plan for the pleasure of her family. She even has an ally and confidante in a former antagonist, the strict yet kind-hearted Aunt Izzie. The story is typically moral and sentimental for the time it was written and, in my opinion, typically charming and lovely as well. Having read this chapter, I decided that the second half focusing on Valentine's Day should be included, as it really does carry on from the Christmas events very nicely.
'Dorry's list ran thus:
'A new Bibel
'Harry and Lucy
'Everything else Santa Claus likes.'
Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did (Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1994), p.122.
'False Whiskers For Two!' and 'The Christmas Spirit' from Jennings As Usual by Anthony Buckeridge
Novel Excerpt (1959)
A boarding school story in which the hapless Jennings and the bewildered Mr Wilkins are brought together by the Christmas spirit, embodied in Father Christmas himself.
Overall this series is very funny, largely due to the incompatibility of Jennings and Mr Wilkins as student and teacher. The author soon discovered what an asset Mr Wilkins was to these stories. It would have been so easy to make this teacher obstacle character malicious and heartless, but instead he is simply a kind man who's bewildered by boys. The faithful reader knows that Mr Wilkins is not an obvious choice to play Father Christmas at the school celebration, yet we are not at all surprised to see that it brings out the best in him.
' "You know, Carter, I think it'd be much better if you were to be Santa Claus," he said persuasively. "I don't honestly think I'm cut out for the part." '
Anthony Buckeridge, Jennings As Usual (House of Stratus, 2003), p.160.
'A Christmas Dream and How it Came True' by Louisa M. Alcott
Short Story (c.1880)
A rich little girl who is bored of Christmas rediscovers the magic in it when she finds its true meaning.
I particularly wanted this story to come straight after A Christmas Carol, because the little heroine Effie actually reads the story on the advice of her mother, and so it inspires the events of the story. It's disappointing that Alcott thinks it was all Scrooge's dream, though not surprising when you think of her religious views; even so, she was a great admirer of Dickens, and here she shows how a little girl becomes a better person after reading one of his books. His influence is clear, while Alcott maintains her own charming style, which altogether makes for an interesting, enjoyable and moral tale.
' "Why, Effie, what a dreadful thing to say! You are as bad as old Scrooge; and I'm afraid something will happen to you, as it did to him, if you don't care for dear Christmas," answered mamma, almost dropping the silver horn she was filling with delicious candies.'
Louisa M. Alott, 'A Christmas Dream and How it Came True', Rosemary Gray (ed.), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Other Christmas Stories (Wordsworth, 2010), p.25.
'The First of the Three Spirits' from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Illustrations by John Leech
Novella Excerpt (1843)
Ebenezer Scrooge is shown his Christmas past by the first of three spirits, in an effort to make him change his heartless and miserly ways.
There is no need to explain this story. The version of this excerpt in my collection would probably be abridged, to make it closer in length and ease of reading to other pieces than it might have been. I chose this chapter because it's the one that strikes me most. Possibly as a child I was more interested in Scrooge's own childhood than anything else, and the famous Fezziwig Christmas work-do and the sad love story also make for great reading. Children doubtless still enjoy the many fine stage and screen adaptations of this work (and perhaps some of the bad ones as well); perhaps, like me, they will be interested to see just how aggressive the spirits can get in Dickens' original (given that they'll be a little young to have read the whole thing).
'But the relentless ghost pinioned him in both his arms, and forced him to observe what happened next.'
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (George Routledge and Sons, 1885), p.108.
'The Infant Nativity Play', 'The Visitation', 'The Woodcarver', 'Balthazar' and 'A Yorkshire Nativity' from A Wayne in a Manger by Gervase Phinn
Short Story Collection (2005)
School nativities are happening about now, so I think children will enjoy this on perhaps the very day of their own star turns as Mary, Joseph, Wise Men etc., or whatever else they're doing at their respective schools. Phinn's humorous observations about school Christmases are cleverly written, without embellishment, so that the funny things children say and do speak for themselves. It took me less than an hour to read the hole collection, I figured I could pick out as many favourites as I wanted to. The three stories in the middle are - I think - the best that typify the book, while the first gives an overview of what to expect, and the last introduces a poignant change in tone without straying from the overall feel of the collection. It makes me feel nostalgic for the days of classic, well-run primary school life, and the author knew what he was doing when he added the snippets of Yorkshire dialect.
'There was a slight pause before she replied. "I am having a baby - oh, and it's not yours." '
Gervase Phinn, A Wayne in a Manger (Penguin, 2006), p.53.
'Christmas' from White Boots by Noel Streatfield
Novel Excerpt (1951)
Only child and trainee skating star Lalla is allowed to enjoy a family Christmas, complete with other children, for the first time in her life.
This is my favourite of Streatfield's novels (that I have read so far). I've liked almost all of them, including her most famous work Ballet Shoes, but this one speaks to me the most. Christmas is the first time that Lalla's allies dare to act against the stifling Aunt Claudia, and give her a taste of the childhood she has been missing out on.
'Although Nana had to say no to Lalla at the time, she thought it a great pity that Lalla could not have a family Christmas for once, so that was why she asked Uncle David to help.'
Noel Streatfield, White Boots (HaperCollins Children's Books, 2008), p.129.
Chapter One of The Exiles at Home by Hilary McKay
Novel Excerpt (1993)
Sisters Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe have a profitable Christmas. Then school starts again and Ruth, who must stay at home ill, takes on a very generous commitment.
This is my favourite book of the Exiles trilogy. Perhaps the greatest strength of this chapter is the introduction of the main plotline, rather than Christmas itself; all the same it captures the atmosphere of a family Christmas, in many ways typical, and in many ways unique to the eccentricities of the Conroy family. Despite these four sisters not being hugely comparable to Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, there is something the two families have in common at Christmas: charity, here combined with McKay's penchant for disorganisation and alarm.
' "You should post them up the chimney," Rachel told her, as Phoebe began to add the customary ingratiating row of kisses across the bottom of the page, but Phoebe preferred to leave her letters lying about where they could be discovered by her relations.'
Hilary McKay, The Exiles at Home (Hodder Children's Books, 2001), p.7.
'The Mirror of Erised' from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Novel Excerpt (1997)
Harry's first Christmas at Hogwarts brings Harry closer to his parents than ever before... almost close enough to touch.
As everyone knows, Rowling's Harry Potter series is phenomenally popular. I can see why children in particular are crazy about it, and this Christmas chapter in the first novel of the series is rich in that spellbinding atmosphere. The events of this chapter are hugely important for Harry's personal journey, especially where they are not vital to the overall plot. I think it laudable that Christmas is here associated with a kind of magic that is deeper, more real and more significant than the usual Hogwarts brand.
'While the Gryffindor common room and the Great Hall had roaring fires, the draughty corridors had become icy and a bitter wind rattled the windows in the classrooms.'
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Bloomsbury, 1997), p.143.
'Christmas at Red Butte' by L.M. Montgomery
Short Story (1909)
Theodora, an orphan who lives with her poor aunt, can't bear her little cousins to be disappointed at Christmas. Little does she know what her sacrifice for them will lead to.
Lucy Maud Montgomery has a charming style, which is why she has won so many fans with Anne of Green Gables. This short story contains similar themes to her most famous works, and is like a miniature Anne or Emily of New Moon book, with all the added charm and atmosphere of Christmas. It is a complete little package in which the plot builds beautifully from sorrow, to sacrifice, to hope, and finally to the perfect ending.
'There had been one terrible moment when Theodora had sighed and told them they mustn't be too much disappointed if Santa Claus did not come this year because the crops had been poor, and he mightn't have had enough presents to go around.'
L.M. Montgomery, 'Christmas at Red Butte', Rosemary Gray (ed.), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Other Christmas Stories (Wordsworth, 2010), p.255.
'Christmas Carols', 'Christmas History', 'Christmas Kids', 'Foul Food', 'Silly Santa' and 'Curious Christmas Customs' from Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary
Illustrations by Martin Brown
Non-Fiction Excerpt (2000)
Terry Deary tells us the truth about all things Christmassy, in his horribly wonderful and wonderfully horrible way!
As may be apparent, I had trouble deciding which sections of this book should go into the collection. They're only short, and one or two would not be enough, so once I had narrowed it down to six chapters I decided to throw the lot in! Horrible Histories is a wonderful series - engaging, funny and always educational - and I thought this would go well after Adrian Mole's equally worthy, but different, sense of fun and humour. Of course, I must give Martin Brown his dues; it has been proven that only his Horrible Histories illustrations will do.
'But where do you get meat when your city is under siege?
'Three places: the zoo, the streets and sewers.'
Terry Deary, Horrible Christmas (Scholastic Children's Books, 2000), p.33.