Shortly after Thanksgiving, a holiday tradition in our household is to bring out a small collection of Christmas books. Over the years, staples like “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” have been added alongside contemporary favorites like “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
One of the highlights is the thin, but beautifully decorated book “Is There a Santa Claus?” The book is a wonderful reprint of the Sept. 27, 1897, New York Sun editorial answering a letter from Virginia O’Hanlon who asks: “Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?” A somewhat similar tale is told in Valentine Davies novella “Miracle on 34th Street,” which later became a classic film.
One of the newer books is “Blue Dog Christmas,” by the Cajun illustrator and artist George Rodrigue, which uses the wonderful Blue Dog to tell us about the meaning of Christmas.
Alex Haley, author of “Roots” and co-author of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X,” penned “A Different Kind of Christmas” — the inspirational story of a slave and white southerner seeking “spiritual regeneration.”
Truman Capote, best known for “In Cold Blood,” wrote two Christmasthemed short stories: “One Christmas” and “A Christmas Memory.” These endearing tales tell heart-warming Christmas stories of Capote growing up in his extended family.
Also not to be missed, is the modern version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Nutcracker,” originally written in 1816. Illustrator Maurice Sendak incorporated his designs for a ballet into this charming book about a young girl, an animated Nutcracker and the evil Mouse King in the Land of Toys.
Virginia Hamilton’s “The Bells of Christmas” transports us into the year 1890 and shows, from the viewpoint of a 12-yearold, how the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t change in those intervening years.
Before reading O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” I saw a stage production at a small historic opera house in Manchester, Michigan. Seeing the stage production has forever seared the central theme of putting love before treasured possessions.
“The Polar Express,” adapted to film in 2004, will take you on a ride inspired by the legendary locomotive Pere Marquette 1225 and the imagination of Grand Rapids author Chris Van Allsburg.
Another delightful picture book for young children is “A Wish to be a Christmas Tree,” by the Brighton husband-and-wife duo of Colleen and Michael Glenn Monroe. It tells the tale of an overlooked Christmas tree, which eventually becomes a sparkling beauty thanks to the creatures of the forest.
The real meaning of Christmas and simplicity lives in Charles Schultz’s loveable cartoon inspired Christmas book, “A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree,” which also has become an annual television special.
Other throwback Christmas books: “Frosty the Snowman,” by Diane Muldrow and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” by Robert L. May, written for a department store give-away in 1939, also spawned holiday television specials and musical tunes still heard today. Gene Autry’s 1949 version of “Rudolph” still has special meaning for me today.
And how could we forget Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? A slightly different version of the tale has been released as this season’s Christmas movie.
Christmas has always been fertile ground for humorists, and two that stand out are “A Christmas Story,” by Jean Shepherd, who I first heard read from the book in 1966 at MSU, and, of course, the comic genius David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice.” I wonder how a children’s book with the central imagery of a gun would play out today?
Another favorite — albeit darkly comical — is “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” a picture book by Tim Burton, whose creatures make for great retro-tree ornaments.
Christmas literature wouldn’t quite be the same without Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” written in 1843, “Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and an often forgotten tome by L. Frank Baum, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.”
Although technically not a Christmas book, the 1962 winter-themed book “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats, is a mustread and might be the first book to integrate the children’s book market.
And what would Christmas-time be without Phillip Van Doren Stern’s short story “The Greatest Gift,” later turned into the television classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”?
One of my favorite children’s books is the inspired pop-up book “The 12 Days of Christmas,” by Robert Sabuda. But you must be careful with little hands, which can easily damage the intricate pop-ups.
Sabuda also did another seasonal favorite called “Chanukah Lights,” which takes you through the Festival of Lights.