Darla Isackson

Each year bookstores feature new books and videos for Christmas and I highlight in this column a few of those items that catch my eye. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the new books; there are many more. It doesn’t include the great books from seasons past that are still available either.

Christmas celebrations are closely linked with music and stories. Just as certain carols bring back the wonder and magic of long ago Christmas seasons, stories too deepen our appreciation, enrich our memories, and give us a better understanding of our Savior’s mission here on earth. Most of us have fond memories of Christmas stories first read to us when we were small children. The Little Match Girl, The Bird’s Christmas Carol, and Dicken’s Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) are among those tales that are forever imprinted in Christmas memories along with the countless retellings of the Christ Child’s birth.

Each year great stories appear in small booklets which are perfect for neighbor gifts, to give to home teaching or visiting teaching families, or to use for stocking stuffers. Many will become the memories treasured through coming years. Among this year’s crop of small booklets are some exceptionally fine ones that could also be used to enhance Family Home Evenings in preparation for creating the Christmas Spirit in our homes.

Jenny’s Christmas Gift by John Pontius is the true story of a child in a home that takes in a sixteen-year-old girl on Christmas Eve. Jenny is kicked out of her home by her father with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing on a cold, snowy night. She borrows a dime to call her best friend from the general store and the friend’s family takes in the young woman, not just for the holiday, but for keeps. There are insights gleaned by both Jenny and the family that rescues her as their simple Christmas gifts are redirected and the spirit of giving is firmly entrenched in hearts.

Snow Angels by Lezlie Anderson fits the bill perfectly for a delightful Christmas story and provides a model for providing service that enhances the spirit of Christmas giving. When Family Night begins to feel more like a chore than an opportunity to share the gospel and build family unity, Mom and Dad propose a service project. With each family member dressed in thick winter wear including a ski mask, they set out to shovel sidewalks along their street. The children leave behind on each snow covered lawn a few snow angels. This isn’t a one-time thing and as Christmas draws near they encounter other “snow angels” who pitch in to help. However, a grouchy old man lives in one house and it becomes a challenge to avoid getting caught by him. His reaction to their project isn’t at all what they expect.

Collections of Christmas stories appear this time of year too. Covenant Communications’ annual compilation of true Christmas stories is now available. It’s called Christmas Treasures. This too, is a small book, though larger than the one story booklets. It contains twelve short stories by twelve LDS authors including me. They are : Jennie Hansen, Hank Smith, Gale Sears, Jennifer Moore, Shauna Humphreys, Brent L. Top, Richard J. Allen, Jenny Proctor, Mike Winder, M.R. Durbin, Kristen McKendry, and Jeanette Miller. This would be a great book for families to use as a story a day in the twelve days leading up to Christmas. The blurb on the back of this small paperback book reads:

Rekindle the spirit of Christmas with this touching collection of timeless true stories told by a dozen of the best LDS storytellers—each with a heartwarming message for the season. From miraculous to dramatic, profound to heartwarming, this touching anthology will fill your soul with lighthearted surprises, faith affirming treasures, and thought-provoking insights. A perfect assortment for sharing and celebrating the holiday season, this delightful book will have you looking back with affection to your own favorite Christmas memories as you are reminded that the Christmas spirit can–and should–be treasured for more than one day.

Another anthology, this one includes fictional stories, is Angels from their Realms of Story compiled by Michael Young. This book includes twenty-five short stories by Michael Young, Jean Bonin, Madonna D. Christensen, Lloyd Morgan, C. Michelle Jeffries, Peg Russel, Shirley Bahlmann, Brian Ricks, Lauri Schoenfeld, Monique Bucheger, Janet Olsen, Peg Russell, Debra Erfert. C. David Belt, Tony Wayne Brown, and Ryan Larsen. The book is designed as an advent of stories to be read from the first of December until Christmas Day. The stories cover a wide range of styles and topics.

A story that has been passed down for several generations through one family is Because of Love by Shauna V. Brown. This is a story that will touch hearts and make the reader aware of the emotional scars that are sometimes inadvertently left on those we love. As a child Byron walked all the way across the plains to Utah without shoes, experiencing great pain. He’s determined his three precious daughters will always have sturdy shoes to protect their feet. His wife, Phoebe, and the girls are tired of being ridiculed and feeling ugly in their big, heavy boy’s boots. They want pretty, feminine shoes with buttons on the side like other girls and women wear. The girls begin a project to earn enough money to buy the shoes they want. Phoebe too begins a secret project to purchase shoes for the girls for Christmas. They all join little Josephine who prays that God will touch Byron’s heart to let them wear the shoes if they manage to complete the seemingly impossible task of raising enough funds to buy them.

J. Pinegar has written the story of an old man who has never forgotten nor forgiven himself for a serious mistake made in his youth. Knowing he doesn’t have long to live, he devises a simple code to give hope and encouragement to his friends. His friends are those he meets in the park, at the mall, and in the run down rooming house where he lives. A small act of kindness snowballs into something far greater on Christmas day. This festive looking small, red book with a bright green wreath on the cover is called The Christmas Code.

Each Christmas season brings a fresh crop of picture books. Picture books are supposedly written for small children, but I’m one adult who loves them dearly, as I suspect do many other adults. One new one that particularly caught my attention is Sam’s Christmas Wish written by George D. Durrant and illustrated by Dan Burr. The delightful illustrations first drew me in, but on reading the story, I was captivated. This is a story of a man who loses his job just before Christmas and is determined no do-gooders are going to make him and his family a charity case. Nonetheless a bounty of Christmas gifts appear on Christmas morning and he is furious. Gradually his heart is softened and he makes a Christmas wish to someday pay it forward. His wish is fulfilled in an unexpected way.

Novellas have made a comeback over the past year or two. These are stories that are shorter than novels, but longer than the usual short story. This is a difficult length to do well because these stories lack both the quick punch of a good short story as well as the depth of a well-written novel. There are many of these compilations available this year, but I read only one, Silver Bells which contains stories by award winning authors Lucinda Brant, Sarah Eden, Heather Moore, LuAnn B. Staheli, Annette Lyon, and Becca Wilhite. The stories are basically Historical Romances in a Christmas setting. Sarah Eden’s Irish tale, A Christmas Promise, will bring a delighted chuckle and Annette Lyon’s A Taste of Home and Becca Wilhite’s My Modern Girl show mastery of the novella format. There are more than the usual number of typos in this book, one of which I found particularly humorous. A young boy teasing a girl with long braids dips her “brains in white paint.” This book will be great for moms who need an occasional break from Christmas preparations.

It’s impossible to read all of the new full-length novels out for this Christmas season, but one that I found intriguing is We Three Kings by John Pontius. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the wise men, magi, or kings that followed the star to honor the Christ Child and present Him with gifts. It’s generally accepted that they came from the East, but did they? Or might they have simply been concealing their return route? After all they brought gifts of great value and may not have wanted any one discovering their source. Where might they have traveled from that required a two year journey? It’s an historical fact that wealthy strangers arrived in Bethlehem looking for a newborn king just before King Herod went on a murdering rampage, killing Jewish baby boys under the age of two, but how many came and where they came from is not known. What if they came from the new world? That’s the premise of Pontius’s novel and is written as an adventure with a touch of romance.

 

 

Great Christmas stories are not limited to books. This year there are several DVDs to add to last year’s favorites. The Last Straw is one of those destined to be a family favorite. This film was inspired by a true story. In the McDonald house there is no peace on earth as the children squabble and fight over everything and the father’s niece, who is in some kind of trouble, comes to stay for the holidays. Next door a young man comes home from college to spend Christmas with his recently widowed grandfather.

As a matter of desperation the parents convince the children to play a game where everyone in the family draws another family member’s name from a hat, then must do kind deeds for that person. With each kind deed they add a straw to the crib for Jesus to lie on. The grandfather helps one of the McDonald children with a project. The college boy and the niece are attracted to each other, giving the story a touch of romance. They join forces for a family football game. Bullying is one of the themes dealt with. The grandfather’s and the children’s’ roles are played particularly well. This short film (approx. 85 minutes) would be great for a pre-Christmas family home evening. Both children and adults will find it entertaining with a subtle message of Christmas is a time for loving and serving one another.