As the author of a book that retells some classic Santa Claus-related legends (THE FIRFLAKE, which you can find purchasing links to right here on this website), and with another book that takes place at Christmas (CHRISTMAS GHOSTS) hopefully to be picked up by a publisher in the coming year, I guess it’s natural for people to assume that I love most of what’s connected to the Christmas holiday. And that assumption would be correct. As most people, I have my downs during the holiday season: missing loved ones who are no longer with us, getting caught up in the more commercial side of the holiday and feeling all of that shopping pressure and tension. But there are more “ups” for me than “downs,” and one of those “ups” is the plethora of Christmas-connected fiction that is out there.
Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Christmas books and a brief comment about why they rank amongst my favorites:
1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Okay, this really is #1 for me, although the rest are in no particular order. This is the one Christmas book I am guaranteed to reread every year. I should note that overall I am not a Charles Dickens fan, but there is something about the narrator’s voice in this book that I just love, apart from the story itself. I tend to read large portions of this out-loud to myself. Is anyone not familiar with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jabob Marley, Tiny Tim and the Three Ghosts?
2. Red Ranger Came Calling, by Berkeley Breathed. Breathed is better known for his “Bloom County” and “Opus” newspaper comic strips. He based this story on an event from his father’s childhood, retelling it in his own inimitable style. “Red” Breathed is sent to visit with an aunt at Christmas time, and meets a hermit named Saunder Clos, who may or may not be the real Santa Claus. It’s a great adventure story with fantastic illustrations.
3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, another picture-book classic lavishly illustrated by the author. Late on Christmas Eve, a boy who no longer believes in Santa is beckoned to board a train bound for the North Pole, and the adventure changes his life. I wonder how many people watch the movie without ever opening up the original book?
4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. The question I asked about the Polar Express could be asked about this book as well. We are all so familiar with the Boris Karloff-narrated, Thurl Ravenscroft-sung television special that I think people forget the book came first. I love to read this to my niece and nephew on Christmas Eve, along with The Polar Express and the next book on my list…
5. Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. The version I have is illustrated in a highly realistic style by Bruce Whatley. There are so many published versions that there has to be a style for everyone by now. When they were younger, the kids loved the reindeer’s facial expressions in this version.
6. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd is actually a compilation of his essays from various other books which includes all of the stories used in the movie version. Reading these stories, you can hear the author’s voice as clearly as you hear it narrating the movie. There are some subtle differences between the two formats, but I love Shepherd’s down-home storytelling style.
7. A Wish Upon the Wind by Joseph Pittman is a story of celebrating Christmas in the aftermath of a great loss. Brian Duncan and his young ward Janey Sullivan are trying to find their way after the death of Janey’s mother. Their small town friends and neighbors end up helping them remember what Christmas is all about, and how we can use our grief to grow. A wonderful short novel.
8. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis is a collection of short stories that take place during the holiday season. I usually pick one or two to reread each year since I bought the collection back in 1999. There are eight stories in here, and surely something for everyone.
9. The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told to Jeff Guinn. I put off reading this one for years, knowing that it might touch on some of the same territory I was covering in my own book. And then one year I realized — doesn’t every story about how Santa became Santa touch on the same basic concepts? Why avoid reading what everyone says is a wonderful book? I’m glad I did. It’s a bit heftier than most of the usual Christmas-season fare in terms of page-count, and I have yet to tackle either of the two sequels, but Guinn captures a wonderful voice for Santa and makes some unique story choices to explain how Santa does what he does.
Honorable Mentions: “A War of Gifts” which takes place in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggins universe; “The Book of Christmas” by Time-Life Books (which inspired my second Christmas book).
Books I hate to admit I haven’t read yet: I have never read L. Frank Baum’s “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” or Orson Scott Card’s “Zanna’s Gift.” Perhaps this year!