Monday, December 6, 2010

It’s Beginning To Read A Lot Like Christmas

Every Christmas, I re-read my favorite young adult books that have holiday themes. My three must-reads for the holiday season are End of Term by Antonia Forest, Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

The first two books were published in England in 1959 and 1926, respectively, and are difficult to buy. Part of what I like about these books is that they are from a different time and tell a story of a holiday tradition that was very different than my own. In Jo of the Chalet School, there are two beautiful chapters on Jo’s Christmas in Innsbruck in 1926. It’s mostly mundane stuff, with long descriptions of shopping for presents and what clothes the characters were wearing. It’s like seeing an old friend every time I re-read it.

End of Term is more complex. The premise of the story is that a school is putting on its annual Christmas play. The language and writing are beautiful and there is a real discussion within the book about religion, the Christmas story and how it is told. One of my favorite parts comes at the end when Patrick, a friend of Nicola, the main character, watches her perform a solo in the church where the play is being staged.

“Difficult, Patrick thought, to think of that as Nicola singing—this immaculate succession of notes, lifting and drifting among the soaring pillars and arches as he had seen thistledown lift and drift on evening the watermeadows, floating away at last above the trees...He did not know why (there was nothing in the words to warrant it) but, as the verse ended, it seemed to him, the hairs crisping on his scalp, that she had been singing of the ultimate solitude of God.”

What I like about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is much simpler. As a child, it made me sad when Tumnus, the faun, tells Lucy about the White Witch’s hold over Narnia and its eternal winter. “Why, it is that she has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” It’s something that’s so easy for a child to relate to – and it also explains, very simply, one of the many reasons why the White Witch is so evil.

What are your favorite holiday re-reads? Let me now and you can win a copy of City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. Post your entry in the comments section below and don’t forget to give me a way to contact you. I’ll post the winner next week.

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