Beyond “A Christmas Carol”

Non-traditional holiday reads

Although the holiday season can be a time of high-stress and activity, it’s also an ideal time to get lost in a great read. Sure, you can’t go wrong with reading or rereading A Christmas Carol, but if you want something less traditional, there is a wealth of options – both old and new – to choose from. Here are a few to consider for your holiday reading.

Christmas Cozies

If your idea of a great Christmas read involves a warm blanket, your hot beverage of choice, and an endearing read, then you have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.

“‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug” is one of the most famous opening lines in American literature.  2018 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women – making it the perfect time to rediscover Louisa May Alcott’s classic.  

Although Ramona and Her Father isn’t the first children’s book people think of when they think “Christmas classic,” this heartwarming and witty 1978 Newbery Honor book by Beverly Cleary remains a relevant look at a family dealing with a parent’s unemployment during the holidays.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto is a gorgeous reminder to not forgo picture books once a child can read independently, as he/she might miss out on some outstanding picture book stories for the elementary school set. Maria must face the consequences of wearing her mother’s ring without permission when it gets lost while making tamales; will it ruin the family’s Christmas dinner? This is a joyous and very relatable story that imparts a message without being overly obvious about it.

Fancy a Christmas on the Cornish coast? Pick up Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, the third in Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery series. When a storm cuts off Mount Polbearne from the mainland, villagers must bond together to make Christmas cheer for everyone.

Oliver is homeless, scared, and shy of strangers after a fire destroys the pub in which he lived. Patient human kindness goes a long way, until he meets a little girl—and village—that need a very special Christmas. Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton is ideal for those who want a heartfelt story that might make them shed a tear or two.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is one of my favorite Christmas stories. Based on the author’s childhood recollections growing up as the daughter of an Episcopal priest and never being able to pick first from the donation boxes sent to the Rosebud Reservation, this is a meaningful and memorable tale about community, selflessness, and unexpected rewards. Although the community is obviously impoverished, it is not a focal point; rather, the emphasis is on family/tribal pride and togetherness.

Christmas Weepers

You’ll want to have a box of tissues handy if you choose one of these Christmas titles.

For a dash of realism in your Christmas stories, don’t miss Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini. Alternating between a grieving Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as he writes a Christmas poem and a music teacher preparing her students for a Christmas concert while facing budget cuts, this is an engaging story of faith, hope and the power of community.

Although A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is not a Christmas story, Betty Smith’s depiction of pre-World War I Christmas traditions in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood will definitely be seared in your memory (as will her depictions of turn of the century Halloween and Election Day festivities).

If you’re an ardent fan of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, you undoubtedly have favorite scenes featuring the irrepressible redhead. Anne’s joy when she receives a dress with “puffed sleeves” for Christmas is likely one of the top scenes from the first novel.  

Silver Packages is another outstanding picture book to share with elementary school students. A young boy fervently hopes to catch a doctor’s kit when the Christmas train runs through his Appalachian community, but each year brings a different gift. Based on author Cynthia Rylant’s childhood experiences, this is an emotional and eye-opening story with a joyful “circle of life” feel that will give you goosebumps.

Have you ever sobbed over a children’s picture book? You just might if you read Susan Wojciechowki’s The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. No one can match Jonathan Toomey’s woodcarvings, but his gruff mannerisms are off-putting to the other villagers. When a widow and her young son ask him to carve figurines of the Holy Family for their crèche, they unexpectedly assist him in his devastating grief.  The illustrations breathtaking and the story is sensitively told without becoming maudlin.

Christmas Romance

Want some escapism and happy endings in your Christmas reading? These stories will set your heart a-fluttering.

Bruce W. Cameron continues his line of wildly popular dog stories (A Dog’s Purpose) with Dogs of Christmas. Josh is not prepared when a dog and her puppies shows up in his life, much less when he falls for the adoption coordinator helping him to get the dogs ready for their new home. Will Josh be able to part with the dogs when it’s time for adoption? This sweet story is perfect for dog lovers and romance readers alike.

How about some binge reading (and time traveling) this Christmas? Check out The Christmas Brides Collection and The Victorian Christmas Brides Collection, both published by Barbour Books, one of the leading Christian fiction publishers.  They are perfect for those who prefer sweetness over sensuality in their romances.

If you’d prefer to stay in this century, pick up Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler. Haley Hanson is rising fast in her advertising career and ready to snatch a prestigious Christmas toy company’s account to further her aspirations. Although she’s not keen on her boss sending her to a Christmas Camp, she learns the benefit of rediscovering Christmas, as well as meeting the dashing son of the camp’s owner.

Finally, if you want to dive into a slew of Christmas novels, you can’t go wrong with the ruler of Christmas romance, Debbie Macomber. Her latest, Alaskan Holiday, is already a New York Times bestseller.  

Mysterious Christmas

Craving a whodunit this holiday season?

Joanne Fluke’s Christmas Cake Murder is the latest in her long-running Hannah Swensen series; Hannah’s dream of becoming the top baker in town is complicated when she becomes entangled in a customer’s murder mystery story that suddenly becomes all too real.

Vicki Delany’s Year-Round Christmas series features Merry Wilkinson, the owner of a sweet little Christmas shop. In Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman, Merry’s best friend is suspected of a murder (by poisoned gingerbread cookie) and she must spring into action before it’s too late.

Why not relax with a fat book of Christmas crime stories, penned by some of the genre’s greats? The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, is crammed with mysteries that even the most discerning mystery reader will approve of.

Isis Crawford’s Mystery With Recipes series is delicious reading for armchair sleuths any time of the year, but fans will definitely devour A Catered Christmas Cookie Exchange featuring a very competitive Christmas cookie competition that unexpectedly turns deadly.

Finally, don’t miss the monarch of Christmas mysteries, Anne Perry; her latest Christmas murder, A Christmas Revelation, is eagerly awaited by her many fans.

These and many more traditional and non-traditional reads can be found at your local Fauquier County Public Library. Browse the catalog or stop by the reference desk for suggestions.

By Jennifer Schultz Angoli, Collection Services Development Librarian. Jennifer has worked with the Fauquier County Public Library for the past 12 years.  A Louisiana native and married to a WVU grad, her current obsessions are her new kitchen appliances, historical fiction, football, and audiobooks for the commute up and down I-66.

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