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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 www.kateforsyth.com.au [2]

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 www.richardharland.net [3]

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 www.asauthors.or [4]g). Hazel’s website is at www.hazeledwards.com [5]

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 [6]

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in France and Australia, Sophie Masson [7] is the multi-award-winning and internationally-published author of over 70 books, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, she has a PhD in creative practice and in 2019 received an AM award in the Order of Australia honours list for her services to literature.