Early December is delicious for its ‘glimmerings and promise of special things,’ a feeling that gathers a gladly expectant momentum as we approach the home stretch towards December the 25th. In A Children’s Literary Christmas edited by Anna James, all the sparkle of Yuletide is captured in a charming and thoughtful selection of festive writing. Whether its significance to you is religious or cultural, James has a story or poem in mind. From beloved classics to contemporary tales, this British Library gift book contains more delights than a box of Harrods’ crackers.
The oldest selected piece dates from 1823, and it is, of course, T’was the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, a famous and much-loved poem, guilty of some fairly torturous rhyming but forgiven for evoking visions of dancing reindeer on snowy rooftops. Almost two centuries later, we encounter Daisy and the Trouble With Christmas by Kes Gray. Daisy has very strong opinions on the subject.
‘The trouble with Christmas excitement is it gets you all over. It goes into your toes and your fingers and your elbows…’
Not to mention into your eyeballs and up your jumper.
The roving mix of festive writing continues with Mark Twain’s (real) letter to his three-year-old daughter on the occasion of her own first letter to St Nick. Compare and contrast also the very different literary flavours of E. Nesbit’s shimmering ice dragon from 1899 (whose curling tail calls to mind the design of the lampposts on the Thames Embankment) and Malorie Blackman’s touching modern tale of a boy on the search for a Christmas present that will stop his parents arguing.
I loved this compilation, it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. My only reservation would be that several of the pieces are mere excerpts from novels, which may prove to be a frustrating tease. Hopefully the eager reader is tempted into buying, begging or borrowing the relevant works. Merry Christmas!
A Children’s Literary Christmas edited by Anna James is published by British Library Publishing, 160 pages.