You know me — during this season I love to listen to Christmas music, watch Hallmark Christmas movies, and read Christmas-themed fiction. I have four books to recommend, two of which were intended for children (tho they certainly have appeal for adults, as well).
The Children of Green Knowe (1954), by Lucy Boston. Young Tolly is sent to stay with his great-grandmother over Christmas and soon learns that the looming, castle-like house is haunted (!!!). But these child ghosts are long-dead family members, and over the course of the story Tolly learns what happened to them, and eventually must face a dark force that threatens the house. There are more Green Knowe books, and I love the fact that the house is based on a real medieval manor in Cambridgeshire owned and restored by Lucy Boston herself. (It’s open to visitors by appointment!) I highly recommend the audiobook with its lovely voice performance from Simon Vance.
Charlotte Fairlie (1954), by D.E. Stevenson (also known as The Enchanted Isle). Ever since enjoying Miss Buncle’s Book, I’ve sought out all the Stevenson books I can find, and this one, with its headmistress heroine who visits a pupil’s family castle in remote Scotland, certainly seemed right up my alley! The book is very difficult to find in print, but luckily there is a satisfying and readily available audiobook from Audible.com. I suppose it’s a bit of a cheat to include this one–the Christmas bit only comes in toward the end and seems a bit “tacked on”–but it’s a beautiful season for bringing everyone together. The romantic impediment strains credulity, but I didn’t care! I just enjoyed spending time with these people.
Christmas at High Rising (a collection of stories published in the 30s & 40s), by Angela Thirkell. Only two of the short stories in this collection have anything to do with Christmas, but I especially liked seeing Laura Morland and her son Tony during the holiday season. I also enjoyed the story from Thirkell’s own childhood experience of celebrating Christmas at the house of her grandfather, Edward Burne-Jones! If you’re interested in reading this anthology, I recommend first reading Thirkell’s High Rising, which is linked below (and is set almost entirely during the Christmas/New Year season).
Box of Delights (1935), by John Masefield. Having left boarding school for the Christmas holiday, young Kay Harker comes into possession of a magic box, which he must use to thwart a gang with evil intentions. This story brought to mind many favorites: C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Edward Eager’s Magic series, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. (I wonder if Masefield was as influenced by E. Nesbit as Lewis, Eager, and Cooper were?) The story has been adapted into several BBC radio shows over the years, and also has a 1984 BBC TV adaptation that I’d love to get my hands on (though I shudder to think of the special effects). It’s available in a lovely New York Review Children’s Litarature edition (see link above) or on audiobook. My favorite thing about Box of Delights is the character Maria, a very young girl who talks tough and acts even tougher, and no one in the book ever asks her to behave like a lady or any of that rot–so refreshing in a book written so long ago! All in all, the story is not quite as magical as those of Lewis, Eager, or Cooper, but it is unique and charming, and from it I finally learned how to make a posset: fill a bowl with hot milk, an egg, a spoonful of treacle, a grating of nutmeg, “and you stir ’em well up, and you get into bed and then you take ’em down hot.” Supposed to revive the weary!
Previously featured Christmas reads:
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell
Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher
How about you? Any Christmas reads to recommend?