The Best of Christmas in LDS Fiction
By Jennie Hansen

Each Christmas season in the past, I’ve given a list of book suggestions for readers’ shopping lists. Instead of doing that this year, I’ll suggest you go to the Meridian archives (books) or to my web site and reread reviews of the books I have reviewed in 2007.

There has been a large selection of new releases this year that would delight the readers on almost any shopping list. I have reviewed most of the LDS novels published this year, but not all. While you’re looking over the many books I did review or you think of favorites I missed, please select the best and nominate them for Whitney awards.

Almost every form of artistic entertainment offers awards for the industries’ finest efforts each year. A group over at LDStorymakers decided it was time to begin awarding LDS fiction’s top writers. To make the awards truly meaningful, they decided the awards could not be limited to members of that group, nor could they be chosen solely by members of that organization. They found sponsors from many segments of the writing/publishing field and the Whitneys were born.

This is where Meridian readers come in. You are invited to nominate your favorite LDS fiction novels for the awards. You can nominate as many books as you like; you can make nominations in every category, but you can’t nominate any one title more than once.

Books receiving more than five nominations from readers are the ones the judges will consider. Judges include industry-wide representatives, not just Storymakers. Please make careful selections of those books you feel are representative of LDS fiction’s finest endeavors, then go to the Whitney web site that is listed above and make your nominations. Only those books first published in 2007 are eligible. Honest, thoughtful nominations from readers will determine which books and their authors deserve this recognition.

Since I’m not giving you specific shopping suggestions, I would like to tell you about a few of the Christmas books that have been released to warm hearts and prepare harried shoppers for the deeper meaning of the Holiday. This list is, by no means complete, and in addition to these new titles there are also many old favorites available to treasure once again. Most of these titles are easily available at LDS bookstores and some can be found at other bookstores.

A Return to Christmas by Chris Heimerdinger is the kind of Christmas miracle story that touches the heart and is a favorite of many during the holiday season. This is the story of two eleven-year-old boys, Artemus and Chess, who inadvertently switch places for the week leading up to Christmas. Artemus is spoiled and resentful, but not really a bad kid; he’s just been given too much all of his life as though his parents were trying to make up to him for a terrible tragedy that occurred on Christmas when he was three years old.

Chess’s drug junkie mother died of an overdose and he ran away from the authorities in Florida to live with his con artist uncle. He’s street-wise and cynical, but when a shoplifting spree goes wrong, he enters a world he has only dreamed of and one that calls on his own considerable con talents for him to survive.

Even though the book holds few surprises, it is wonderfully well written and a delight to read until the last chapter where there is an awkward author intrusion and more telling than showing. The characters are delightful and easy to sympathize with and though the plot is predictable, that’s what is expected from this type of Christmas story. It will appeal to all family members, young and old.

Winter Star by Larry R. and Lisa Gleave Laycock is a convoluted tale of a family torn apart by the wayward actions of one child, then brought together again by hope – and a star. Though the emotional impact of the story doesn’t feel as contrived as that of most Christmas books, it is hard to follow because of the many time changes, flashbacks, and points of view. This is not a read-aloud book for children, but will primarily appeal to adults and older teenagers.  

The Last Straw by Paula Panlangi McDonald and illustrated by Carol Pettit Harding, is a delightful story based on the familiar custom of building a straw filled bed for the Infant Jesus. This picture book may be considered a children’s book, but will be enjoyed by parents and older siblings as well, a great Family Home Evening resource.

A young mother of four is at her wits’ end when her children, especially Eric and Kelly, seem to do nothing but fight and whine during the days leading up to Christmas. Remembering the custom of building a manager and filling it with straw, one piece at a time for each good deed rendered, she introduces the custom to her children with both expected and unexpected results.

A Homemade Christmas by Alma J. Yates is the story of a family struggling with poverty as told by an eleven-year-old daughter. Nadine is ashamed and embarrassed by her family’s poverty. Though intellectually she understands her family’s plight is because of a serious accident that cost her father his health, his job, and the family their Logan, Utah, home and comfortable life style, she hates being pitied almost as much as she hates the prospect of a Christmas with no presents.

When her father is offered a job in an out-of-the-way Arizona town, the Cluff family move to a small house owned by an aristocratic rich woman who possesses little compassion for her tenants. Here Nadine is befriended by Jennilynn, who becomes her best friend. Between the cross old rich woman and Jennilynn, Nadine learns some bitter truths about herself and some wonderful things about “the giving thing.”

This story will appeal to middle readers, young adults, and adults. Though predictable, as most Christmas books are, it avoids the maudlin, excess sentimentality found in many Christmas stories. I liked the subtle undercurrent that revealed that both the rich and the poor can be obsessed with things and can be equally selfish, and that the opposite can be true as well, both the rich and poor can be givers. Readers may not warm up to the protagonist, Nadine, for a time, but her friend, Jennilynn is a delightful character from start to finish.

The Gift by Richard Paul Evans is sure to please his many fans. Using the familiar theme of a man who hates Christmas because of its association with tragic events in his past, Nathan Hurst is forced to confront his past when he is stranded in a snowstorm that cancels his flight and he meets a young mother and her son who show him that Christmas truly is a time for miracles.

The Box That Christmas Came In by Debbie G. Harman is booklet length and perfect for a stocking stuffer or to give to home teaching or visiting teaching families. It is a touching story of the lengths an older couple go to in their efforts to help a young couple and their infant daughter who are penniless and alone while a fierce winter storm rages.   Santa’s First Flight by Sam Beeson, illustrated by Tom Tolman. The illustrations alone are worth the price of this delightful new book about Santa’s origins. Another picture book that may look like it is meant for children, but which will appeal to the child in all of us.