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Baker’s Dozen: 13 Books I Got for Christmas

All I really wanted for Christmas was books, books for my library and for my personal reading. So that’s what I got, and a lovely set of books they are:

1. The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton, adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown. Doesn’t this sound delicious? Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, adapted for middle grade readers.

2. Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle. The edition I got is a small, child-sized book. Just lovely.

3. The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.

4. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace. We’re big Betsy-Tacy fans here, but I somehow lost my copy of this book in the series.

5. How To See an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman.

6. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. A Caldecott Honor book.

7. The Child’s Gifts: A Twelfth Night Tale by Tomas Blanco.

8. The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith. Prequel to The Green Ember.

9. Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria.

10. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski.

11. Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass.

12. Our Island Story: A History of Britain for Boys and Girls, from the Romans to Queen Victoria by H.E.Marshall.

13. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon.

I’m looking forward to reading the books that are new to me and placing the picture books in my library.

Christmas in Leipzig, Germany, c. 1735

The Twenty Children of Johann Sebastian Bach by David Arkin.

As a part of a large donation to my library of ex-library books, I found this wonderful book about Bach and his family. The author says that of the twenty children (by two successive wives), seven did not live. So, that leaves thirteen little Bachs to learn to sing and play music and compose music. It must have been a delightful household.

The book mentions Christmas:

“Most wonderful of all were the times when the family gathered together at holidays with their friends. Then the immortal music of all the Bachs would ring out for the earth and heavens to hear. Perhaps they would sing the Christmas Oratorio, or a cantata, or maybe they would just make up music as they went along.”

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was composed in 1734, so that’s why I dated this Christmas post 1735. I think this celebration of music and Bach and his family would be a great read at any time of the year. The illustrations by author David Arkin are lovely and detailed pencil drawings of all the Bachs and their musical activities. David Arkin, by the way, was the father of actor Alan Arkin, and he wrote the lyrics to Black and White, a hit pop song recorded most successfully by Three Dog Night in 1972.

(So after writing this post, I went over to youtube and listened to some Three Dog Night: Black and White, The Road to Shambhala, Old Fashioned Love Song, Never Been to Spain, Joy to the World. Funny how a book about Bach can lead to a 70’s pop binge listen.)

Christmas in Florida, 1950

From the book, The Seminole Indians by Sonia Bleeker:


“Florida, of course, does not have a white Christmas. Usually Christmas Day is bright and warm. Everywhere among the Seminole settlements Christmas trees stand gaily next to the open chickees, their bulbs glittering in the warm sun. Everyone rises early, even though men, women, and children have been up late on Christmas Eve enjoying family reunions and gossip.

Before the holiday, the little sewing machine on the floor of each chickee throughout the settlements and reservations has been going full blast. The mother, or a little girl by her side, cranks the handle of the machine hour after hour, stitching yards and yards of bright-colored strips of cotton cloth. The Seminole have an excellent eye for arranging colors. They combine red and blue with yellow green, orange, deep red, rose, purple, and white. The colors are not thrown together at random. They follow a set pattern, and the Seminole women are extremely clever in designing artistic color combinations. Each strip has a different design; in some, the bright colors make a zigzag pattern. The mother sews and fits these strips into skirts for herself and her daughter and shirts for husband and son. Now gay new clothes are ready for the holidays. By Christmas Eve the sewing machines are all covered and will remain idle until after the New Year. Everyone is dressed in his best clothes.”

Christmas in Crawford Falls, Oregon, 1963

Today’s Christmas vignette is from the verse novel, Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips, about a teenager named Laura who must cope with her mother’s bipolar disorder in an era when mental illness was a taboo subject. I’m not sure how far we’ve moved toward openness and understanding of mental illness and mentally ill people in the interim, but the book portrays the issues and the possible approaches to healing and resolution quite well.

Before everyone gets here, Mother and Daddy
will have her traditional oyster stew
while I stick to peanut butter and jelly.
Daddy will tell us again
how they had lutefisk and lefse on the farm
in Bemidji when he was a boy.

When everybody arrives we’ll gather in the small
living room, glowing with Christmas lights and candles.
I’ll get down on the floor and play with the kids
crowded around the tree.
Each of them will find a present with their name on it,
little junky toys from Woolworth’s I wrapped myself.
The adults will get louder and merrier
with each round of Christmas cheer,
and I will take pictures
with my Brownie Starfish camera.

I wonder
if nervous breakdowns
money worries
alcoholic tendencies
or stormy relations
will bleed through the negatives.

But for this moment
Christmas Eve is aglow
as it should be.

Christmas in Appleton, England, 1957

The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden.

“This is a story about wishing. It is also about a doll and a little girl. It begins with the doll.

Her name, of course, was Holly.
It could not have been anything else, for she was dressed for Christmas in a red dress, and red shoes, though her petticoat and socks were green.
She was 12 inches high; she had real gold hair, brown glass eyes that could open and shut, and teeth like tiny china pearls.”

Such a sweet Christmas story, reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, but much more hopeful, The Story of Holly & Ivy is one of Rumer Godden’s doll stories. And it’s illustrated by the talented Caldecott-award winning author and illustrator, Barbara Cooney. I would recommend this picture book for girls, or boys, who love dolls and who enjoy gentle stories about wishes coming true.

Some other doll stories by Rumer Godden and other authors that you and your doll-loving children might enjoy:
Mouse House by Rumer Godden. A mouse who hasn’t enough room in her crowded flower pot home goes looking for another house.
Little Plum by Rumor Godden. Nona and Belinda don’t like Gem their new next door neighbor, but they love the little Japanese doll in her window, whom they name Little Plum.
The Doll’s House by Rumor Godden. Emily and Charlotte long for a proper home for their doll family, but there’s trouble in the new dollhouse.
Miss Flora McFlimsey books by Mariana.
The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. William wants a doll so that he can learn to be a daddy.
The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh. For middle grade and above readers, a family of dolls live secretive lives in an old house in London.

Christmas in Holland, c.1910

Kit and Kat flattened their noses against all the shop windows, and looked at the toys and cakes.

“I wish St. Nicholas would bring me that,” said Kit, pointing to a very large St. Nicholas cake.

“And I want some of those,” Kat said, pointing to some cakes made in the shapes of birds and fish.

Vrouw Vedder had gone with her basket on an errand. Father Vedder and Kit and Kat walked slowly along, waiting for her. Soon there was a noise up the street. There were shouts, and the clatter of wooden shoes.

“Look! Look!” cried Kit.

There, in the midst of the crowd, was a great white horse; and riding on it was the good St. Nicholas himself! He had a long white beard and red cheeks, and long robes, with a mitre on his head; and he smiled at the children, who crowded around him and followed him in a noisy procession down the street.

Behind St. Nicholas came a cart, filled with packages of all sizes. The children were all shouting at once, “Give me a cake, good St. Nicholas!” or, “Give me a new pair of shoes!” or whatever each one wanted most.

“Where is he going?” asked Kit and Kat.

“He’s carrying presents to houses where there are good girls and boys,” Father Vedder said. “For bad children, there is only a rod in the shoe.”

“I’m glad we’re so good,” said Kit.

“When will he come to our house?” asked Kat.

“Not until to-morrow,” said Father Vedder. “But you must fill your wooden shoes with beans or hay for his good horse, to-night; and then perhaps he will come down the chimney and leave something in them. It’s worth trying.”

The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins

Christmas in Oregon, 1843

From the book, Westward Ho! Eleven Explorers of the West by Charlotte Folz Jones, “Mapping the Path for Manifest Destiny, John C. Fremont.”

“A week later, on Christmas morning of 1843, they camped beside another lake, which Fremont named Christmas Lake. It is either present-day Hart Lake or Crump Lake. By this time, they were in the desert. Fremont described it as ‘a remote, desolate land.’ Having to spend Christmas in such isolated, barren, and forbidding land, the men’s spirits were low, so Fremont poured everyone a drink of brandy to toast the day. Louis Zindel fired the cannon and the rest of the men fired their pistols. They had coffee with sugar, then continued their journey.”

The eleven explorers in this rather lovely book are: Robert Gray, George Vancouver, Alexander Mackenzie, John Colter, Zebulon Montgomery, Stephen Harriman Long, James Bridger, Jedidiah Strong Smith, Joseph Reddeford Walker, John Fremont, and John Wesley Powell. I would imagine between the eleven of them there many, many Christmases spent in “remote desolate lands.”

I’m feeling as if my Christmas is shaping up to be rather remote and desolate, too, in spite of all the loving people around me and all the many blessings I have to be thankful for. The problem is not my surroundings or my circumstances. I just feel remote and not ready to celebrate Christmas. If you’re feeling the same way, maybe this post from singer and songwriter Audrey Assad will speak to you as it did to me.

Christmas in Morocco, c.1950

The Secret of the Fourth Candle by Patricia St. John.

Aisha looked awestruck at the candles and then back at the presents . . . She knew at last why the little girl lit one more candle every week. It was in honor of a Baby called Jesus who was coming next week, and then all the candles would burn and the whole room would be white and radiant and the Baby would laugh and crow. She had never heard of Jesus before, for she was a Muslim girl, but she felt sure He must be a very important Baby to have the candles lit especially for His coming. And all those presents, too! She supposed they were all for Him and she wondered what was inside them—lovely little garments perhaps, and toys and colored shoes. She wanted to see Him more than she had ever wanted to see anything else in the world.

Patricia St. John spent over twenty-five years in North Africa and the Middle East as a missionary teacher and nurse. She wrote several books for children, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as an autobiography that Jan Bloom recommends in her book, Who Then Should We Read? I would absolutely love to have a copy of Ms. St. John’s autobiography, AN Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith. However, I will content myself with the children’s novels and stories that I do have in my library, including The Secret of the Fourth Candle, a Christmas story about a Muslim girl who discovers the true, true meaning of Christmas.

Other books by Patricia St. John in my library:

The Secret at Pheasant Cottage
Rainbow Garden
Star of Light
Tanglewoods’ Secret
Three Go Searching
Treasures of the Snow

Christmas in Maine, 1858

Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy.

Chester Greenwood was born on December 4, 1858. He allegedly had large, cold ears and invented earmuffs to protect those ears at the age of 15. Well, according to author Meghan McCarthy, Chester at least improved the idea of earmuffs and got a patent for his new, improved earmuffs.

Ms. McCarthy’s illustrations are not my style, bug-eyed people with big heads and little beady pupils. But others might find the cartoonish people set in simple scenes to be just right. To each his own.

I do think Ms. McCarthy does a good job of telling Chester Greenwood’s story, the story of an inventor and an entrepreneur who didn’t “change the world” but did make his own small mark on it. In 1977, the Maine legislature declared Dec. 21 (the first day of winter) as Chester Greenwood Day.

Christmas in an English village, 1974

The Christmas Mouse: A Story by Miss Read.

“The Christmas tree, dressed the night before by Jane and Frances—with many squeals of delight—stood on the side table. This table, spangled with stars and tinsel, displayed the Victorian fairy doll, three inches high, which had once adorned the Christmas trees of Mrs. Berry’s childhood. The doll’s tiny wax face was brown with age but still bore that sweet expression which the child had imagined was an angel’s. Sprigs of holly were tucked behind the picture frames, and a spray of mistletoe hung where the oil lamp had once swung from the central beam over the dining table.

Mrs. Berry leaned back in her chair and surveyed it all with satisfaction. It looked splendid and there was very little more to be done to the preparations in the kitchen. The turkey was stuffed, the potatoes peeled. The Christmas pudding had been made in November and stood ready on the shelf to be plunged into the steamer tomorrow morning. Mince pies waited in the tin, and a splendid Christmas cake, iced and decorated by Mrs. Berry herself, would grace the table tomorrow.”

Dora Saint, aka Miss Read, was a former schoolteacher who wrote novels of English country life, set in the fictional villages of Thrush Green and Fairacre. Village School, her first novel, was published in 1955, and Miss Read continued to write, with more than thirty books published, until her retirement in 1996. Miss Read/Dora Saint died in 2012.

The Christmas Mouse is a 172 page Christmas novelette set in the nearby village of Shepherd’s Cross. It is also available as one of three stories in the book, Christmas at Fairacre. The Miss Read stories and novels are a perfect fit for the Jan Karon fans, among I number myself and many of my friends, especially those who are also Anglophiles. Miss Read writes gentle tales of small town people going about their daily business with grace and dignity.

In this Christmas story, Mrs. Berry and her daughter Mary, both widowed, are preparing for Christmas with Mary’s two young daughters, Jane and Frances. There is a spiritual component to the story, as Mrs. Berry prays and hopes for Mary’s recovery from the tragic loss of her husband, Bertie, in an automobile accident. As the little family receives two unexpected “guests” on Christmas Eve, and an unexpected invitation, Mary begins to open her heart to wonder and even joy.

The theme of this story can be summed up in these words from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

It’s a good truth to be reminded of at Christmas time.