It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Decorative lights illuminate the glowing shop windows, the air is sharp and cold, and there is so much peppermint in your food and holiday beverages that you might as well inject it intravenously. Houses start to smell like pine trees (or potato pancakes), people singing on street corners becomes pleasant instead of unsettling, and small children come to your house and beg for candy. I mean presents.
In all seriousness, this is one of my favorite times of the year, and along with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, my favorite thing about this season is that beloved books from childhood once again make their way off the shelf and into my arms. To read, of course. Not to cuddle. (Well . . . I mean, sometimes it’s nice to cuddle . . . never mind.)
I’ve compiled my list of some favorites, and by that I mean I had Donny do some shopping at the bookstore for me and I picked the ones I liked best. Thanks Donny, I’ll reimburse you later. (He’s not getting reimbursed.)
1. The Tailor of Gloucester (Beatrix Potter)
The author of “Peter Rabbit” never disappoints. An elderly tailor is commissioned to finish a waistcoat for a man of great importance, and it has to be ready by Christmas, which is the next day. The tailor sends his faithful cat, Simpkin, to go buy the twist of cherry-colored silk needed for the trimming, as well as some dinner. While Simpkin the cat goes off into the streets of Gloucester to buy the twist, the Tailor finds some mice under a tea cup that the cat had captured earlier, as cats do, and he releases them. When Simpkin returns and finds his mice have escaped with help from the Tailor, he hides the twist. For revenge. (Speaking from experience, this is pretty realistic. My cat hides my stuff all the time when she’s miffed.)
I won’t tell you the rest. (Spoilers!) But it’s a charming story that has entertained me for years, and the fact that it’s written for children shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this beautifully told and illustrated story. What are the holidays for, if not nostalgia?
2. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (William Joyce)
This is the first book in the Guardians of Childhood series, written by William Joyce, who’s also the man behind a few of your favorite animated movies. This series inspired the Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians, although the movie differs from the book in several ways.
In this first book, Nicholas St. North, a young rogue with a heavy Russian accent and two very kick-ass swords, is called upon to defend a secret and magical colony of children from the Nightmare King. That’s not a detailed summary, I know, but this is a great book and I want you all to go out and read it. Your kids will love it. Don’t have kids? Pretend you do when you buy the book, then read it at home in your favorite armchair with some milk and cookies. Because you’re an adult and it’s Christmas, dammit.
3. The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (Lemony Snicket)
I’ll read anything written by Lemony Snicket, and this book is the best Christmas-Hanukkah mashup story ever written. The story begins with the birth of a latke (“a word which here means, ‘potato pancake’”). This latke, who comes into the world screaming, jumps out of the frying pan and runs from the house, encountering Christmas decorations along the way who simply don’t understand the significance of the latke or Hanukkah. Understandably, the poor misunderstood potato pancake screams in frustration after each encounter, until finally he is taken in by a Jewish family who reheat him:
It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world. If you say one thing, and keep being told that you mean something else, it can make you want to scream. But somewhere in the world there is a place for all of us, whether you are an electric form of decoration, a peppermint scented sweet, a source of timber, or a potato pancake. On a cold, snowy night, everyone and everything should be welcome somewhere. And the Latke was welcome into a home full of people who understood what a latke is and how it fits into its particular holiday.
And then they ate it.
4. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Eric Kimmel)
I’m not Jewish, but this book was read to me throughout my childhood, and it’s one of my favorites. Hershel, a popular figure from Jewish folklore, stumbles upon a town whose people haven’t lighted their menorahs on the first night of Hanukkah. When he inquires as to why, the town tells him that goblins who haunt the synagogue prevent them from doing so. They break their dreidels and terrorize the people. So Hershel, a trickster, decides to outwit the goblins and break their curse. Through a series of fantastical encounters that I will not spoil, including a rather scary encounter with the Goblin King, Hershel is able to break the power of the goblins on the town. (There’s also some great art in this book.)
5. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
Of course, how can I make a list about holiday children’s stories and not talk about my all-time favorite, A Christmas Carol? Written because Dickens was short on cash and needed some (quick), A Christmas Carol tells the story of a miserly old man who no longer recognizes the joys of Christmas and only values, well, money. The irony. He’s then visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, who is chained and forced to wander the earth because he put profit over people or something. In a last-ditch effort to save Scrooge’s soul, three spirits appear to him over the course of three nights. The story both thrills and chills its readers, and has stood the test of time for a very good reason, but it’s often abridged or shortened for kids because of the complexity. If you have kids, please don’t do that to them! They’re smarter than you think, and will cherish this book for years.
Donny tells me that I’ve run out of time. Donny is a Grinch. What are your favorite books to read this time of year?