Holiday Reading Then and Now

photo copyright Hazel Edwards

Therese and Kath sneaking in for a second to say Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers!

As it’s heading into the festive season, I want to do something a bit special this month, and look both back and forward to the joys of childhood holiday reading, in both my own words and those of three writer friends to whom I put these questions: what books do you most remember from this time? And what are your recommendations for a modern child’s Christmas/ Thanksgiving/ Hanukkah/ seasonal gift list?

In our house, we children mostly borrowed books from the library but at Christmas and birthdays we were given books of our own, and that made them extra special. Some of the ones that stand out in my mind were a beautiful edition of Les Malheurs de Sophie (Sophie’s Misfortunes) by the classic French author the Countess de Ségur—because I knew I was named after her, but also because it was so much fun!)the Tintin series, which was added to every year (all five of us children got a different book of the series so we cold swap around afterwards), and The Hill of the Red Fox, by Allan Campbell MacLean, a wonderful adventure set in the Highlands of Scotland. These are all still books I regularly re-read. And a book on art which I pored over for ages—it was not at all the sort of thing I’d have chosen, on my own, but I really loved it and it’s still on my shelves and has inspired many a story.

There’s lots of new books I could recommend, but I don’t want to go on too long, so I’ll just list one: Fiona McDonald’s lovely, nostalgic black-and white illustrated novel for younger readers(say 7-11 year olds but great for reading aloud too), about a doll touched by the magic of starlight and her stray-cat friend, Ghost Doll and Jasper(Sky Pony Press, 2012). And now for the lists of the three wonderful authors I’m featuring, all Australians, but all published internationally as well, and who have written for both children and adults: Kate Forsyth, Richard Harland and Hazel Edwards.

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the best-selling and award-winning author of more than twenty books for adults and children, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. Her most recent book for adults is the historical novel Bitter Greens, which combines a re-imagining of the Rapunzel fairy tale, interwoven with the dramatic, true-life story of the woman who first told it, 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Her most recent novel for children is The Starkin Crown, a heroic fantasy set in the magical world of Estelliana, a place of wild magic and terrifying monsters. Her website is at

I remember the Christmas I was given 3 Famous Five books very vividly.
I read them all under the Christmas table and got into trouble from my
mum for reading instead of sharing in the Christmas cheer :)

I’m building a Xmas list for all my nieces and nephews – so far I’m buying ‘Dodger’ by Terry Pratchett’ & I am No 4′ by Pittacus Lore, for the boys, & ‘Princess of Glass’, by Jessica Day George and ‘Fire Spell’ by Laura Amy Schlitz for the girls. And for my daughter, the boxed set of Anne of Green Gables as well.

Richard Harland

Born and brought up in Britain, Richard Harland came to Australia as a young PHD student and never left! He’s become one of Australia’s most respected and popular writers of speculative fiction, who writes for both an adult and YA readership, and his steampunk series that started with Worldshaker has, well, shaken the world, being published in lots of different countries. His forthcoming steampunk novel, Song of the Slums, is coming out in May 2013. His website is at

So many books I loved as a child, but mostly I can’t remember how or when I got hold of them! But one book that was definitely an Xmas present was Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland. I ended up reading every Moomin book in existence, but that first one was always my favourite. Perhaps because it somehow manages a powerful overall story as well as that wonderful rambling, random quality you always get from Moomintroll, Sniff, Snufkin, the Hemulen and the Snork maiden. I love disaster stories, and Comet in Moominland is the ultimate (near) cataclysm. I still picture myself in that cave by the sea as the terrifying fiery comet rushes past on the other side of the curtains!

Some recommends
I’ve had a year of catching up on adult Steampunk fiction, so haven’t read much recent YA or Children’s except books in series I started a while back. For continuing series, I heartily recommend the Spooks Books by Joseph Delaney, the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, and the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. The fact that I’m still following those series says it all!

Best of my new reading (2012 or 2011 publications): When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett, and Sea-Hearts by Margo Lanagan (which is YA by marketing, but probably adult in appeal). Maybe I could also mention the two Tales of the Tower volumes (ed Isobelle Carmody & Nan McNab), each with half a dozen novella-length re-imaginings of old fairytales. Mine’s a new version of Beauty and the Beast in vol 1,The Wilful Eye.

Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards is the author of the classic, mega-selling, internationally-published picture book series There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, and her publishing career is long and distinguished. She’s not afraid to take up new challenges: a picture book app Feymouse has just been released on Itunes, she’s released several of her own backlist titles as e-books (order from her website) and she’s also co-authored f2m-the boy within, a YA novel about transitioning gender, with Ryan Kennedy, and there’s a documentary  in progress too. An Antarctic expeditioner, Hazel has researched in unusual places. Her non-fiction titles include Writing a Non boring Family History and the recent Authorpreneurship, about how authors can value-add to their careers, with many excellent tips (published by the Keesing Press, publication arm of the Australian Society of Authors, it’s available both as print and e-book on Hazel’s website is at

Aged 9-11 ,the ‘School Friend’ annuals ,of magazine stories and comics were the books I loved at Christmas time . I liked the idea of several stories in one book in different formats and would re-read all the holidays , something I rarely do now. I was conscious that they were very ‘English’ but I’d already finished Mary Grant Bruce’s ‘Billabong’ series of the Australian bush.

Good books for Christmas Stockings
For 11-12  up I recommend  Kelly Gardiner’s ‘Act of Faith’ , (Angus & Robertson) set in 1640, for the crafted rhythm of the writing and the courageous girl willing to help print a book of radical ideas.

‘Warriors’  by Krista Bell ( Windy Hollow) is a beautifully produced time slip set in China. Probably 10 upwards.

For each child’s birthday I write a photographic story. ‘ Henry Garnet the Serial Sock Puller ‘was for my grandson’s 2nd birthday. The secret to those stories is to write around your existing photos and include every member of the family. And read -share the books as part of the family’s traditions.

(Note from Sophie: sounds like a great idea for a holiday gift too!)

Over to you, dear readers: what are the holiday books you most remember from childhood? And any recommendations of new holiday reading for kids?


About Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson has published more than fifty novels internationally since 1990, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, raised mostly in Australia, she has a master’s degree in French and English literature. Sophie's new e-book on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, is available at Australian Society of Authors.


  1. says

    I too used to receive BD/comic books for Christmas, perhaps because they were too expensive to buy the rest of the year (and they weren’t available at the library). I worked my way through Tintin and Asterix and always associate Christmas with them!
    MarinaSofia´s last blog post ..Two Versions of a Poem

  2. Denise Willson says

    I recall reading Are You There God It’s Me Margerate by Judy Bloom, many, many times. Hmm…my oldest is turning 10, I wonder if this book is still in print?

    A note to Canadians: Indigo supports local writers, both traditionally and self published. Consider putting at least one local writer on your holiday giving (or getting) list.

    You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve worked with Indigo head office for over a decade and it’s hard to shake my day-job. :)

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

  3. says

    I can’t recall getting books as gifts when I was a kid, but I definitely buy books as gifts. For my branding clients, I’m picking out several titles that I hope will inspire them. With all the Black Friday craziness, I do hope buyers consider books. At Buzz Books, we’re doing “get one, gift one.” We’ll see how it goes!
    Malena Lott´s last blog post ..Keep Calm and Write On or Drama Begets Drama?

  4. Linda Pennell says

    In my previous life as a teacher working with 7th graders who had learning/reading difficulties and “hated” reading, I was always thrilled by their reactions when we finished our first classroom novel. It never failed that at least one student in every class sighed and said with wonder and pride, “This is the first book I’ve ever read.” Others would then chime in, “And it was really good too!” To see the spark ignite in those kids’ eyes was more rewarding than words can describe.

    We owe so much to the authors whose wonderful books we learned to love as children. Early reading is such a tremendously important life skill. I can’t applaud enough parents who give the gift of a love of reading to their children at Christmas and all through the year. As we know, it is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

  5. Carolyn Hirsh says

    I remember one year receiving Jeannie Gunn’s books, We of the Never Never, the story of her experiences at Elsey Station near Mataranka, where her husband was a partner at Elsey. She wrote it as a novel, but it was the true story of her life in outback Australia. I was also given another of her books and The Little Black Princess, the story of a little indigenous girl called Bett Bett. I loved the books and reread them many times. I’m afraid though, they shaped my childhood views that indigenous Australians led pretty good lives.

  6. Kathie says

    My favourite at age 10 was Enid Blyton. After emigrating from England to live in a migrant hostel for twelve months, we children were given an option based on finances : Move into our own home before Christmas and have a of couple of small gifts, or move in January and have a ‘proper’ Christmas. (That’s how I remember it anyway). As we hated hostel life, we chose to move before Christmas. I remember that Christmas fondly: reading my couple of Enid Blyton books and an the adventure of Christmas in our almost empty home – bare floorboards, sheets for curtains and a decorated tree branch for a christmas tree! I have just bought Enid Blyton for my ten-year old daughter for Christmas. (We have blinds, carpets and a tree though!)

  7. Clare says

    I second Richard Harland’s Chaos Walking trilogy recommendation, which I think would be especially good if you’re trying to interest teenage boys. Also for boys (but also girls! all recommendations work for both!) would be Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman, which is very, very good but you may want to have a conversation with your kids while/after they’ve read it. It’s very much about poverty and racism and what’s happened to the Native American communities in the US. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger is an epistolary novel that got rereleased in 2011 that’s KIND OF about baseball, set before World War II. I know nothing about baseball and I loved it, hence the ‘kind of’. It’s very, very funny and I think many boys would love it.

    I also think Red Shirts by John Scalzi, which is technically aimed at adults, would work as well if your kid is into sci-fi. It’s very meta and kind of what I imagine a sci-fi show would be like if it was written by Dan Harmon (who created the tv show Community). Also Adaptation by Malindo Lo for the sci-fi crowd, which takes a lot of inspiration from The X-Files and features an LGBTQ protag written by an LGBTQ (and POC) author.

    I think all girls should read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockart, it is INCREDIBLY good and very nuanced and feminist, which is also true of all of E. Lockhart’s books but I think this one is her best. Graceling by Kristin Cashore is also very good and Bitterblue, which is kind of a companion novel?, came out recently and was also very good. Chime by Franny Billingsley was a beautifully written Gothic novel.

    If your kids liked Twilight (or even if they didn’t!), they might like Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier, which you can tell from the title is a very loving, very kind parody of the vampire genre. Its tagline is ‘friends don’t let friends date vampires’. It’s as unlike the nasty parodies as you can get and really tries to deal with the things that Twilight chose not to. If they liked the Hunger Games, Legend by Marie Lu is a dystopian that’s kind of similiar but far from a direct copy.

    Jaclyn Moriarty has the first book in a new series (out now in Australia, but not anywhere else til Feb I think?) which I haven’t read yet but she’s so consistently good I’m comfortable recommending it anyway.

    Um. Yes. I read a lot of books and have a lot of feelings about them. *cough*

    In terms of books I remember most getting when I was a kid, at Christmas I would often get big, thick mythology tomes that were too expensive to con people into buying for me during the year. I think this is probably because when my mum bought me one one year, it’s possible I jumped up and ran around the room, shrieking with excitement. Not confirming that though!

  8. says

    I’ll date myself here. One Christmas, maybe 1963 or 64, I received 3 paperbacks. Two I don’t remember, but the third was the Wizard of Oz. I’ve never forgotten those books. Another time, Mom took me to the Hospital Holiday Bazaar and bought me The Bobsey Twins series. They were hardbacks, green with a pic of the twins on the front of each book. I loved those books!

    This year, for my great-niece who is 7 I bought the complete set of Junie B. Jones per her request.

    For her 6-year-old brother I bought the all-in-one Dick and Jane hardback with 64 stories (I think.) I remember learning to read with Dick and Jane.

    I adore nostalgia!