This past weekend, I asked readers to share what books they planned to read on Christmas Eve.
Laura C. said that she likes to share "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with her son every year.
Wendy said her favorite is "CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR 'ROUND (1952), edited by Marjorie Vetter, which contains 25 Christmas stories from American Girl magazine--it used to be the official magazine of the Girl Scouts, but was similar to YM or Seventeen, and published excellent fiction. Most of the authors aren't anyone people have heard of anymore unless you're me; the most famous is probably Lenora Mattingly Weber, who wrote the cult-favorite Beany Malone books."
I want to read this book too, but it's almost impossible to find these days. And our library's copy is missing!
Linda revealed, "I usually don't have any time on Christmas Eve to read anything, but four books I must re-read before Christmas are THE TUCKERS: THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, Kathryn Lasky's CHRISTMAS AFTER ALL, and Frances Frost's SLEIGH BELLS FOR WINDY FOOT, as well as A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If I can, I do like to read the last FEW chapters of Kate Seredy's THE OPEN GATE (starting with the Pearl Harbor chapter.)
Well, that got me excited. I'm a fan of the Tuckers books too, but have not read THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY and, in fact, did not even know it was a holiday story. Now it's going on my "find and read" list, along with the other books Linda suggested!
Brer is a fantasy fan: "I like to read "A Christmas Carol" of course, but also THE BOX OF DELIGHTS by John Masefield, THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper, HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett, and THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis."
An anonymous reader contributed this: "I found my all time favorite Christmas read on a sale table in the front entry way at Schulers bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan years ago. The FOUR MIDWESTERN SISTERS CHRISTMAS BOOK is a treat to read especially for those of us who were born in the 50's. It is a wonderful collection of recipes, holiday craft projects, stories, and traditions."
I've got the same book, Anonymous! And I found mine on the sale table at Borders in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one New Year's Eve many years ago. I love it too!
And bookseller P.J. Grath said, "I'm happily all set with reading, as a friend has sent me two children's stories she's written. She's written others but is starting me with these two. What a gift! Now I feel like a kid with a big, mysterious, exciting wrapped box under the tree!"
P.J.'s comments actually have a connection with a note I got from blog-friend Mary. She wasn't able to post in the comments section, but she wrote me to say, "I will be reading two books of short stories by Katherine Paterson, one story each day, throughout the month of December. They are titled ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS : FAMILY CHRISTMAS STORIES and A MIDNIGHT CLEAR."
A few weeks ago this blog posed a question about Christmas books: since they are presumably read only for a month or so each year, are they "money makers" for publishers? Do they sell enough copies in November and December to justify remaining in print all year long? I guess they must, as Ms. Paterson's two collections have been in print continuously since they were published in 1979 and 1995. In some ways, these volumes are quite different from the author's usual books. Instead of concerning children, the stories frequently focus on old men, married women, fathers and mothers. Though Christianity has quietly informed much of Paterson's work, it is most evident in these Christmas collections. Though enjoyable to read (and read aloud) the tales sometimes seem a bit purposeful and lack the nuance of the author's very best work.
ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS was released just after Katherine Paterson's career skyrocketed with a National Book Award (THE MASTER PUPPETEER) followed by a Newbery Medal (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA) and another NBA win (THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS.) By the time A MIDNIGHT CLEAR was published, she'd won a second Newbery (JACOB HAVE I LOVED) and was acknowledged as one of the world's most important writers for children. Yet it's possible that none of those award-winning novels would have been written if it hadn't been for the humble Christmas stories collected in ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS....
It all began in 1967, years before Katherine Paterson had ever published a word of fiction. In fact, she'd only written two short stories in her life. Neither had been published. But that year, the author's minister husband decided that, rather than deliver a sermon at his church's Christmas Eve service, he wanted to read a short story. Katherine went to the library in search of yuletide stories, found none that pleased her ("I can do better than this!" she remembers thinking) and decided to write one of her own.
That Christmas Eve her story was read at the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, beginning an annual tradition of original Katherine Paterson stories being shared every December twenty-fourth -- first in Maryland, and later in Virginia and Vermont, as the family moved to different church assignments.
The author said, "In those early years, propelled perhaps by my loving congregations' responses to my Christmas stories, I began to write fiction seriously."
In other words, if Katherine Paterson had not shared that first story forty-four Christmases ago, we might not have Jess and Leslie, Sarah Louise and Caroline Bradshaw, Gilly, Lyddie, Jip, Jimmy Jo, and so many others...so many stories.
Katherine's husband, John, is now retired from the ministry. Today he occasionally collaborates with his wife in writing children's books -- most recently THE FLINT HEART. I don't know if Ms. Paterson still writes a new Christmas story each year, but I do know that the stories from ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS and A MIDNIGHT CLEAR continue to be shared from other pulpits in other churches each and every Christmas. And of course they are always waiting for any of us to read within the covers of ANGELS AND OTHER STRANGERS, that offbeat children's book, so different from most of the author's work yet containing heartfelt stories -- some written during the apprentice phase of her career -- that continue to delight and inspire readers.
...And speaking of apprentice writers, wouldn't it be fun to sit around P.J. Grath's Christmas tree this weekend, hearing those two brand-new Christmas stories written by her friend? Who knows -- Perhaps that friend will go on to have the kind of success Katherine Paterson has had.
Whether you're reading aloud a tale from one of Paterson's Christmas books...or an unpublished story written by a friend...or maybe even a holiday tale you've written yourself, what better way to celebrate the season than sharing a story with someone this Christmas Eve?