A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Hello, my lovelies – and Merry Christmas! No booing at the back – we’re less than two weeks away now, so take your humbugs and go. Today I’m going to offer up my favourite kind of post for your Seasonal delectation – a post which is basically just me shoving books at your head and telling you to read them because they’re great.
What makes a great Christmassy read, you ask? Well, it’s not – funnily enough! – always a book that’s about Christmas. In fact, most books directly about Christmas tend to be a bit cloying, in my humble opinion. Maybe this is because I’m agnostic and mostly enjoy the season as a secular holiday with a long and interesting tradition dating back to pre-Christian times, an excuse to bake up a storm and give people presents. But in any case, I think the perfect Christmas read isn’t about showing lisping rosy cheeked children giving up their favourite toys to the less fortunate, or saintly invalids offering insight into charity and patience before dying or being miraculously healed. Because. You know. Ick.
No, a good holiday read is one that that captures a wintery sort of mood, a book that offers up snow and ice *and* cosy roaring fires, a book that fills you with the urge to sing solemn carols or curl up under your snuggly blanket with a mug of tea. A book that makes you shiver with the chilly, looming darkness of the winter solstice and then comforts you with the twinkling warm lights of home.
First up, then, is the novella anthology Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. This is the most brilliant collection of stories – terrifying, bittersweet, heart-warming and whimsical. I read it for the first time at this time of year, and went straight out and got the hardback as a Christmas present for my sister, which may explain why it leaped into my mind for this list. But I think the real reason is that the longest story in the book is one that bedazzles the reader with images of icy palaces, frost-silvered forests, and wolves hunting through a wintery city. This is an illustrated book – the lush and beautiful interpretations of the characters were created by the author’s husband, no less – which also feels very seasonal to me. But get the American version if you can. The UK version has the art, but only in black and white – in the US hardback the artwork is coloured, which adds a whole new dimension.
Next is the book that I always – always – always re-read once a year sometime during December: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I’m not alone in this. All right-thinking folks should indulge in the shivery magical landscapes of Susan Cooper at Christmas time. Dealing with eleven year old Will Stanton’s discovery on his winter birthday of a perilous magical destiny, this book offers not only the compelling coziness of a very traditional British Christmas, but also links the season back to earlier, darker times and the wild paganistic rituals that still echo in our celebrations today. If you can read and NOT end up humming ‘Good King Wenceslas’ all day, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
No list of Christmas reads would be complete without a mention of that classic seasonal treat – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Come on, admit it. From the moment that Lucy steps into the snowy forest and is treated to buttered toast, tea, tinned sardines and cake by Mr Tumnus, you can feel the need to sing ‘In the Deep Midwinter’ starting to creep over you. Don’t fight it. Snuggle down and just surrender.
Have you read a book called The Winter of Enchantment by Victoria Walker? It’s not very well known, but it deserves to be. I was lucky enough to have a copy of it in my local library growing up, and as an adult I spent at least a decade trying to track a volume down so that I could re-experience the stunning imaginative worlds of this story. Luckily it’s now been reprinted and is much easier to get hold of. Set in Edwardian London, it documents the adventures of a young boy called Sebastian. Stumbling into a junk shop one day in order to take shelter from a sudden downpour of snow, he discovers an enchanted mirror that allows him to communicate with a young woman trapped in a magical realm on the other side of the glass. It’s charmingly illustrated throughout with the author’s own pen and ink sketches. Just thinking about this book makes me smile – read it this Christmas if you can.
Moomin Midwinter was a Christmas present to me from my sister and nieces a few years ago. It’s a strange little book, even for Tove Jansson – quirky, melancholic, and much less concerned with the usual whacky Moomin adventures than the quest for warmth and a sense of homecoming and family amid the silent snow. If the overwhelming sentimentality of Christmas TV programming is making you feel a bit queasy, this could be an excellent palate cleanser.
Lastly I’m going to give into the temptation to mention one of my own books – although it’s usually a hard and fast rule of mine not to do so in lists like this! – because I honestly feel that FrostFire is just the sort of thing *I* would like to read to evoke a sense of shivery snowiness at this time of year. It concerns the quest of a troubled young woman named Frost who has been exiled from her icy homeland and is searching for a cure for the wolf spirit that haunts her. She unexpectedly finds friendship and love among a group of misfit soldiers protecting the perilous mountain passes of the Kingdom of Ruan – but then has to decide if her new family is worth risking her life for. The story is bittersweet but also, hopefully, uplifting. And it’s my editor’s favourite of all my books, so there’s a recommendation for you 🙂
Happy Christmas reading!
YA novelist Zoë Marriott lives on the bleak and windy East coast of Britain, in a house crowded with books, cats, and an eccentric sprocker named Finn (also known as the Devil Hound). Her folklore and fairytale inspired fantasy novels are critically acclaimed and have been nominated for many awards, even winning a few, including a USBBY Outstanding International Book listing for The Swan Kingdom and a Junior Library Guild Selection and the prestigious Sasakawa Prize for Shadows on the Moon. In 2015 the release of Frail Mortal Heart will complete her epic urban fantasy trilogy, The Name of the Blade, a tale of Kitsune, Kami and katanas. Zoë is proud to be represented by Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Children’s Literacy Agency.