Holiday Gifts You Can Read
Give the gift of delight
There’s a lot to be said for gifts you can read. Books provide hours of delight at just pennies per hour, and of course, I have a few suggestions (it was hard to whittle down the list!). I’ve linked to the editions I own (or owned, in the case of Little Women and Two Little Savages) and believe to be suitable for gift-giving. All links to Amazon are affiliate links (you can read all about that at the bottom of the page).
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I had the fun of taking my six-year-old granddaughter to see a production of Little Women last week, and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed the story when I was young. I gave her this pretty Puffin in Bloom edition to remember the evening by, and she texted me today that she’s almost to chapter five. In case you don’t remember it, Little Women is described as “a semi-autobiographical account of [Alcott’s] childhood years with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts.” It’s a great story that begins during the Civil War and conveys an authentic sense of the time and place, along with laughter, tears, and a boatload of frugal and creative ideas. I recommend it highly.
Two Little Savages: Being the Adventures of Two Boys Who Lived as Indians and What They Learned by Earnest Thompson Seton: Our boys wore this book out — not just by constant re-reading, but also by taking it outside for instruction in how to make and do all sorts of real-guy things. The story is engagingly told, but it was the abundance of how-to sketches and informal nature illustrations that made the book irresistible. You may want to set a few ground rules about the use of axes and fire if your boys decide to try making the dugout canoe (don’t ask why I remember that), but overall, it’s a book to be actively enjoyed, not just perused.
The Dragon of Cripple Creek by Troy Howell: I’ve been a fan of Troy’s illustration work for many years (he illustrated the covers of the American editions of the Redwall series, as well as a number of classics and fairy tales). I read The Dragon of Cripple Creek as soon as it came out, and loved it, from Ye, the ancient dragon, to the the setting in the American West. The heroine, Kat, is appealing and adventurous. It’s the kind of book C. S. Lewis was talking about when he said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” The Dragon of Cripple Creek is suitable for a family read-aloud or as a gift for a special young person.
The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean: I was looking for a seasonal book for my grandchildren, and came across this on a list of great holiday reads. McCaughrean is the author of the excellent introductory version of The Canterbury Tales I recommend as a context resource in British Literature, so I was certain this would be a clear retelling of the stories in the Jesse tree. I wasn’t disappointed. McCaughrean framed the Jesse tree stories in an engaging tale of a curious young boy and a curmudgeonly old woodcarver, and each story was told in a fresh, yet faithful way.
If you aren’t familiar with the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree, it is a gathering of Bible stories from creation to the birth of Christ. The stories are often told or read one per day during Advent, sometimes with an accompanying project of making small ornaments to hang on a branch or tree, thus the “tree” part of the name. Ann Voskamp has written quite a bit about the Jesse Tree tradition, and you can read more about its origins and download free printable ornaments at MyJesseTree.com.
Fiction for you
The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera: I’ve bought at least three copies of The Awakening of Miss Prim so far, and recommended it to my reading friends. The story begins with Miss Prudentia Prim applying for the position of private, live-in librarian in beautiful San Ireneo, a harmoniously un-modern town where “many families . . . invested all their time and expertise . . . in personally seeing to their children’s education and giving classes to the children of others as well.” As the story unfolds, Miss Prim finds many of her firmly held ideas about education, religion, love, marriage, beauty, and friendship challenged by her employer, the Man in the Wingchair. The unfolding story (and their relationship) is about ideas, rather than about homeschooling, but I think that classical and Charlotte Mason homeschoolers and other non-traditional educators would find it appealing.
Need more fiction suggestions? The Excellence in Literature booklist (PDF) is a good place to start. It is an incomplete list of the classics I think everyone should read at least once. There are so many more I’d like to share, but these are all covered within the Excellence in Literature curriculum, so I believe they are a good place to start.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Phillip and Carol Zalenski: I was, as my grandmother would have said, tickled to win this at a Circe conference a couple of years ago. This isn’t a biography, but rather as the subtitle suggests, it is a look at what C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams were reading, writing, and discussing as they “sought to revitalize literature and faith in the twentieth century’s darkest years.” That may sound dry, but let me share a single sentence from the first page of the first chapter: “And we start our portrait of Tolkien with his mother — a welcome surprise in this tale of a group that rigorously excluded women — because Mabel Tolkien set in motion her son’s madly spinning top of a mind, from which epic poems, children’s stories, fantasy novels, invented languages, literary essays, philological studies, songs, watercolors, and pen-and-ink sketches would take flight for the next eighty years.” Now . . . don’t you want to read more?
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson: Standing in an airport bookstore just before a nine-hour flight, I spotted this intriguingly titled book. My first thought was of Micah 6:8 (paraphrased) — “He has shown you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” I had a backpack full of books and an iPad packed with ebooks, but it didn’t matter — somehow I knew this was the book I was supposed to read on this flight. It lasted through four airports and three planes, and I still haven’t gotten over it. It is described as “an unforgettable true story about the redeeming potential of mercy,” and that’s what it is. Is it possible to read it without be touched and perhaps transformed? I hope not. I recommend it.
Collected Poems, 1909–1962 by T. S. Eliot: I keep this book by my chair, and savor bits of Eliot’s verse. I’m in “Choruses from the Rock” at the moment, but sometimes open the book at random for a taste of something different. Like the richest of chocolate truffles, Eliot’s poetry is best enjoyed a bit at a time. This isn’t a pretty book — just plain brown — but it is pleasant to hold and read.
Working it Out: Growing Spiritually with the Poetry of George Herbert by Joseph Womack: I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but it is worth revisiting, because that’s what I do. There are 51 of Herbert’s beautiful poems — one per week — with commentary that provides a thoughtful understanding of each poem. The method used for understanding Herbert’s poetry can be applied to any other poetry, so this could also be considered an informal course in poetry analysis.
On my wish list
The Complete Poems by Christina Rossetti: Because when I realized that she was the author of the beautiful “In the Bleak MidWinter,” I wanted to read more.
Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony M. Esolen: Because Esolen thinks and writes with wisdom, wit, and truth.
. . . and a whole lot of other things that have been recommended to me. So many books; so little time!
More reading suggestions from Excellence in Literature
Historical Fiction for Young Readers
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