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Christmas in France, c. 1930

From Noël for Jeanne-Marie by Françoise Seignobosc:

“Listen, Patapon,” says Jeanne-Marie. “Noël is the birthday of the little Jesus.”

“And there is something more about Noël. If you are very good, Father Noël brings you presents. He comes in the night. No one sees him, no one at all. I put my wooden shoes near the chimney and Father Noël fills them with presents. You will see, Patapon, you will see . . .”

Unfortunately, Patapon is Jeanne-Marie’s pet sheep, and sheep have no wooden shoes to place beside the chimney for Father Noël to fill with presents.

I love both the illustrations and the story in this simple picture book about a little French girl and her pet sheep. Ms. Seignobosc, a French-American author and illustrator who used the pen name of simply “Françoise”, wrote and illustrated over 40 picture books between the years of 1930 and 1960. I would suggest that if you find any of her books about Jeanne-Marie or any of her other lovely picture books that you snap them up. They are not only collector’s items, but they are also delightful, simple stories for reading with preschoolers and for the young at heart.

Take a look at this one about Biquette, the white goat with a lovely special-made coat.
Or Springtime for Jeanne-Marie, one of my favorites.
More from Springtime for Jeanne-Marie.
And here’s some information about another Francoise book, The Thank You Book.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

12 Book Lists from 2014

I will round up the bloggers’ book lists at my Saturday Review of Books on December 27th, the day after Christmas, giving everyone plenty of time to post their lists. Also, on the day after Christmas I’ll start posting my several lists of favorites and books I’m looking forward to reading in 2015.

In the meantime, the other end of the year book lists are already starting to multiply. I have a love/hate relationship with lists of “best books” or “favorites”, mostly love. But it is frustrating to see how many books there are that I would love to read and how little time I have to read them all.

On the other hand, what a blessing to have so many books to choose from! What an embarrassment of riches!

14 Best Books of 2014 (with runners-up) by Tony Reinke at Desiring God. These are Christian nonfiction, and there are at least a couple that I want to read, including John Piper’s book on authors George Herbert, George Whitfield, and C.S. Lewis and Karen Swallow Prior’s biography Fierce Convictions, about poet and reformer Hannah More.

Christian Science Monitor’s 10 best fiction books of 2014. Almost all ten of these sound intriguing, and I added most of them to my TBR list at Goodreads.

Speaking of Goodreads, Goodreads Selects Best Books of 2014. Some of these were already on my radar; others are new to me.

Mary DeMuth’s Best Ever Gift Guide for Book Lovers. I added four books to my TBR list from Mary’s gift guide, and I could have added more:
Rush of Heaven by Ema McKinley and Cheryl Ricker.
The Invisibile Girls by Sarah Thebarge.
Living Without Jim by Sue Keddy.
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.

The Best Books of 2014, according to Slate staff. Some of these are a bit too risqué or my tastes, but others sound intriguing:
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris.
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn.
Lock In by John Scalzi.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.

And another Slate list: 27 Books you shouldn’t have overlooked in 2014. I think I’ll not overlook at least one of these:
Like No Other by Una LaMarche. YA fiction, “featuring Jaxon, who is black, and Devorah, a Hasidic girl who isn’t even allowed a phone.”(!) They meet in a stranded hospital elevator during an electrical outage. Color me curious.

Newsweek: Our Favorite Books of 2014. Not my favorites, but maybe you will find something here?

Washington Post: The Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014. Many interesting pick here:
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu. About an Ethiopian emigrant, this one fits into my interest in all things African.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Mr. McEwan is always provocative–and evocative.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I already had this one on my list before it was even published.
An Unecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.

Washington Post: 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. National Book Award winner.
Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck, translated by Sam Garrett. If it’s readable.
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter.
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan. For my U.S. presidents project.
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre.

Hornbook presents its Fanfare! The best books of 2014. I’ll need to read the following, all of which I’ve seen recommended on numerous lists and in numerous reviews:
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. National Book Award winner.

Entertainment Weekly: 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2014. The usual suspects, plus a few more.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison is starting to sound interesting. Also, maybe I’ll buy What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe as a gift for Engineer Husband.

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2014’s Great Reads.

As she does every year, Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti has lots more 2014 book lists, specifically those that include children’s and YA books.

Christmas in Ohio (?), c.1994

From Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant.

“Mr. Putter loved to give Christmas presents. He started thinking about Christmas presents in July. He liked to think of what he could give to the grocer and to the librarian, and to the postman. Mr. Putter also had to think of what he could give to his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. This was the hardest of all. He usually had to think about this all the way to December.
Mrs. Teaberry liked strange things. She liked coconuts made into monkey heads. She liked salt shakers that walked across the table. She liked little dresses for her teapots. Mr. Putter could live with monkey heads and walking salt shakers and dressed-up teapots. But Mr. Putter could not believe hat Mrs. Teaberry liked fruitcake. He could not believe that anyone liked fruitcake. . .
He thought Mrs. Teaberry should have a good cake for Christmas. . . And one night as he and Tabby sat dreaming at their snowy window, that is what he decided to gee Mrs. Teaberry for Christmas. Mr. Putter would bake her a Christmas cake. It would be a cinch.
The cake was not a cinch.”

This series of easy readers by Cynthia Rylant has the distinction of being about an elderly man and his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and his cat Tabby. Most children’s books are about children. But I have seen lots of kids enjoy these simple stories about an old man and his simple joys and problems. I enjoy them, too. The other books in the series are:

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears
Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane
Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat
Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train
Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn
Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold
Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup
Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book
Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn
Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance

I wish I had all of these in my library, but at any rate I do have Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake–just in time to inspire me to bake something for Christmas.

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Christmas in Port William, Kentucky, 1954

From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry:

“The night of the Christmas dance was starless. A few snowflakes were floating down out of the dark sky into the aura of electric light in front of Riverwood. I was moved to see the snowflakes melting in Clydie’s hair as I helped her out of her coat. She was wearing a light green dress with a full skirt that set off her figure, and I reached around her waist and gave her a little hug.

We protested and paid and went past Mrs. Fitz’s table into the darker room. The band already was playing and couples were dancing. Mindful that we were older than most, we took a table a little off to itself and yet where we had a good view of the floor. For a while we just watched. The boys were wearing their good suits. The girls were in party dresses, all dolled up. It was a pretty thing to see them dancing. The room was lighted by rows of shaded electric candles along the walls, an imitation log fire in the fireplace, and (so far) by a few lamps overhead that cast a soft glow onto the dance floor. Everybody (including, of course, me) had brought a pint or a half-pint stuck away in his pocket or in his date’s purse.”

Something happens at the Christmas dance that changes Mr. Jayber Crow, Port William’s resident barber and inveterate bachelor. He sees something that changes the direction of his life–in an unusual way. He makes a vow, and he spends the remainder of the book living out the consequences of that vow.

“Maybe I had begun my journey drunk and ended it crazy. Probably I was not the one to say. But though I felt the whole world shaken underfoot, though I foresaw nothing and feared everything, I felt strangely steadied in my mind, strangely elated and quiet.
The sky had lightened a little by the time I reached the top of the Port William hill. It was Sunday morning again.”

Jayber Crow is one of the best books I’ve ever read by a very talented author.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Christmas in Holland, 1943

A Dutch family celebrates Christmas/St. Nicholas Day during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands:

St. Nicholas told Pieterbaas to look in the bag and see what was in it. To everyone’s amusement, Pieterbaas pulled out six chocolate bars! They were small bars, but they might have been of gold. Chocolate had been unknown in Holland for the past three years. Now Betsy believed more than ever in St. Nicholas’ magic!

St. Nicholas sat at the table and had supper with the family. Mother had added to the meal a sauce of the mushrooms Joris had picked, so that there would be enough food for everyone.

Betsy exclaimed that she had never before eaten with St. Nicholas. “Are you going to see my Daddy,” she asked.

St. Nicholas was struggling with the soup; he seemed to have difficulty finding his mouth through the beard. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Of course, I don’t forget people.”

“And what will you bring him?” asked Betsy. “Bread pudding?” Bread pudding seemed to be a family joke at the stationmaster’s house.

“No, I’m going to bring him good news of his girls. He’ll like that best,” said St. Nicholas. Koba and Betsy nodded. That seemed reasonable. ~The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum

Saturday Review of Books: December 6, 2014


“How necessary, then, to learn to read the revelatory texts of scripture, sunsets, heartbreaks, aesthetic works, benedictions and catastrophe, prose and prophecy, and all the other miraculous and perplexing ‘words of God’ endlessly being storied forth for our deep reading. They all invite our skillful practice of the Christian art lectio divina, one of the primary modalities of Christian transformation that brings us, in both our waking and our dreaming, to the wellsprings of contemplation, the ground of the life of praise.” ~Kathleen Deignan

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs


A middle grade murder mystery set on the moon. What more need be said? You either think it’s a genius idea for a middle grade author to write a mystery novel for kids set in a moon colony, Moon Base Alpha, in the year 2041, or you’re not interested in astronauts and NASA and science fiction stuff. If you are a person who’s “thrilled by space travel”, as the author says he is, you would probably enjoy this book. It’s a classic murder mystery wrapped inside a bunch of details about life in space, space stations, and the possibilities of what might happen if and when humans begin to colonize the moon. It’s fun, well-researched, and well-plotted. I didn’t like the reveal of who the murderer was and why he “done it”, but that’s personal preference.

That said, I’m going to discuss a very minor aspect of Mr. Gibbs’ vision of the future: his depiction of race and race relations. In describing some nasty characters who are residents of Moon Base Alpha, the narrator goes off on a tangent about the state of racial categories in the future:

“You see, Patton and Lily are virtually the only pure white people my age I’ve ever met. Everyone else I know is a blend. Me and Violet, for example (black mom, white dad). Or the Brahmaputra-Marquez family (Indian mom, Latino dad). Or Kira (Asian mom, black dad). Or Riley Bock, back on earth (Korean-Italian mom, Irish-Sri Lankan-Peruvian-Choctaw dad). The Sjobergs, however, are pure northern European Caucasian stock, with blond hair and blue eyes and skin so pale it looks like the belly of a fish. Mom and Dad have some friends like that from their generation, and my grandparents say it was pretty common when they were young, and I’ve been told that back when my great-grandparents were kids, people of different races couldn’t even marry each other in America. I know that’s true, but it still seems impossible.
Every kid I’d ever known was some shade of brown.”

This scenario for the future is quite plausible, and I used to think that such a state of affairs, where every one was so “mixed race” that no one could tell who was what anyway would be the solution for all the divisions and prejudices that exist in our country. If what we call “race” becomes so intermingled and interbred that we can no longer tell black from brown from white because almost everyone is sort of brownish, which is by rights what should happen in a world where communication and transportation are so accessible, then racism as we know it would cease to exist, right?

Or maybe not. Now I’m not so sure. I’m a bit more pessimistic about the future of peace on earth (or the moon) among all mankind. We are by nature sinful people who are full of fear and hatred and pride and who are prone to violence. If we can’t divide people up by skin color, we’ll find something else. Look at the Tutsis and the Hutus of south central Africa:

“The antagonism between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi is not a tribal conflict. It is not, properly speaking, an ethnic conflict. By all the most common definitions, Hutus and Tutsis are the same people, which makes their violent history even more tragically incomprehensible to outsiders. . . . Despite the stereotypical variation in appearance – tall Tutsis, squat Hutus – anthropologists say they are ethnically indistinguishable. The oft- quoted difference in height is roughly the same as the difference between wealthy and poor Europeans in the last century (an average of 12cm).” The Independent, November 1996

Anyway, that’s not what the book Space Case is about. But it is one thing it made me think about. Read Space Case for fun and entertainment. Pray for Ferguson and for New York City and for all the places that are filled with division and hatred and all the people in the world who are experiencing fear and injustice and persecution and violence. Pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, through the only Solution who has ever brought true healing to our broken planet.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Christmas in Northeast China, 1940

David Michell was born in China, the son of Australian Christian missionaries working with the China Inland Mission. He was at Chefoo School, away from his parents, when the Japanese took the students and staff there captive. He spent part of the war in an internment camp, the same camp where Olympic runner Eric Liddell was held. This Christmas, described in a letter to the students’ parents, was just before the Japanese took over the area in 1941.

From A Boy’s War by David Michell:

“Just before Christmas the well-known story of Scrooge once again delighted youthful eyes and ears and prepared the way for the Spirit of Christmas 1940. On Christmas Eve little messengers went round the compound or to the houses of other friends carrying bulging bags, waste paper [baskets], or even laundry baskets full of gifts, while others with dolls’ prams filled them with gay packages and wheeled them off. Meanwhile a bevy of artists from the Girls’ House transformed our dining room into a Christmas bower, where red and green and silver glowed in the soft lights from the tree.

Just as supper was over a Chinese school visited us and filled the hall with their hearty singing while our children looked on in solemn amazement. . . . That night a package found its way on to the foot of each bed, not quite burning a hole through the covers in the few short hours till Christmas Day in the morning. That morning began at 6:30, and instead of the clanging of a gong, church bells relayed by a gramophone echoed down the passages. Breakfast was followed by family prayers round the table, and again the soft lights on the tree shed their radiance over a scene which you would love to have looked upon. Our hearts bowed in worship as we sang of the One who came, ‘A little Child to earth, long ago’ from the knowledge of whom comes all peace and joy and love.”

Christmas in London, 1661

Christmas Day, 1661. In the morning to church; where at the door of our pew I was fain to stay, because that the sexton had not opened the door. A good sermon of Mr. Mills. Dined at home all alone, And taking occasion, from some fault in the meat, to complain of my maid’s Sluttery, my wife and I fell out, and I up to my Chamber in a discontent. After dinner my wife comes up to me and all friends again; and she and I to walk upon the Leads; there Sir W. Pen called us and we went to his house and supped with him.
~Samuel Pepys

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.

This bust is of Pepys, showing him as a young man as he was when he wrote his famous diary. I can’t figure out from the above quotation whether it was Pepys himself or his wife who spoiled their Christmas festivities with complaints about the maid’s “sluttery.” Either way, it’s good that they made up in time to sup with Sir Penn.