If you could spend Christmas in any story, which would you choose?
Would you squeeze into the Weasleys’ living room or celebrate Narnia’s first Christmas after the thaw? Would you join the Ingalls around the woodstove in their little house on the prairie?
I would spend mine among the puffed sleeves and plum puddings of Anne of Green Gables, where the company dishes twinkle prettily in the candlelight. I would finally get to wear one of those glorious dresses with their full skirts and strands of buttons. And oh, to savor a slice of dark, spicy fruitcake with Anne Shirley herself!
But reading Christmas with Anne is the next best thing. Christmas With Anne is a collection of warm and welcoming short stories, featuring Anne Shirley as well as a cast of new characters: strangers stranded on a train, students stuck in a boarding house over Christmas, families separated by bitterness and comically reunited by chance.
Reading these stories is a little like celebrating Christmas over and over again. Each one tells of a different celebration in a different home, but each one also tells of some hurdle a character must overcome to better love those around her. L. M. Montgomery’s stories are a beautiful reminder that, though we can’t visit the world of our favorite stories, the Author of our story visited ours. Christmas With Anne illustrates beautifully what it looks like to love others the way he loves us.
Today’s post originally appeared in the Christmas 2018 issue of Wildflowers Magazine. You can purchase that (and any other) issue of WildflowersMagazineright here. And watch for the Christmas 2019 issue, which will make an entrance any day now!
L. M. Montgomery’s books make me want to befriend some patch of land and explore it thoroughly until I know and have named every tree, every brook, every starry-eyed flower in its thickets. I want to wear clothes made from fabric with names that sound edible—chiffon, taffeta, voile—in colors like “dove gray,” “dusky rose” and “pale green.”
Oh, to eat preserves from quilted jelly jars and don hats festooned with silk flowers and curling ostrich feathers! (I also want to clean, because I harbor a strong suspicion that Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs. Rachel Lynde would not approve of my standards of housekeeping.)
Montgomery’s writing transports me so completely to the Prince Edward Island of yesteryear that it is with a jolt that I come to at the close of the chapter to find myself camped out on the couch with a sleeping baby on my chest and a mean crick in my neck (a scene no less lovely, by the way—just slightly less romantic).
You have read Anne of Green Gables, of course. I had—twice—and had also acted in the play (some of you may recall that I married Gilbert Blythe), so I was more than familiar with Anne’s story. But in these early days of new motherhood, I decided to read on in the series and, in doing so, discovered a story of rare beauty.
Anne is an endlessly endearing, perfectly imperfect heroine, settled into a story of lush scenery and unforgettable characters. To walk with a character through childhood and into adulthood, to watch her friendships and marriage grow and change, is a delight. Montgomery’s ability to present Anne in the various stages of life without slackening the pace or vibrancy of the story, allowing the reader to watch Anne grow in wisdom as she becomes a mother, confronts loss, and watches her own children mature, shows just how masterful an author she is.
There is something singular about seeing a life spun out in story like that. I can’t help but hope that, in heaven, we’ll see our own lives in a similar way: we’ll step back from it a bit so we can see God’s delicate foreshadowing in our own stories and, knowing the end of things, we’ll see, in those moments when life seemed “a vale of tears,” the first glint of the glorious light up ahead.
Today’s summer re-run originally appeared way back in February 2014, in the early days of this blog. But it is about one of my favorite series in all of literature, so it’s worth sharing again. (Also, these books are perfect for reading beneath a favorite tree. Just in case you were looking for books perfect for reading beneath a favorite tree . . . )
Some years February is mopey and melancholic. It mists the back of my neck with gray rain, and the clouds seem so low, so immovable that I’m tempted to reach up and try to touch them. But this year, I detected a decided tone of mockery in February’s weather: it snowed, and then the snow turned to gray slush and then it went away. The sun came out for a week or so then, warm enough for walking and wondering at crocuses and snowdrops and feeling hopeful about life in general.
And then the snow came back.
It was white and fluffy snow, the kind of snow we’re glad to see in November. But I caught myself shaking my fist at it and wanting to retreat into some inner part of me that remembered crocuses and snowdrops and the promising first shoots of daffodils. Instead, I dug out the picture books.
Normally, I like to fill the weeks of Lent with posts about beautiful Easter books. But this year I decided to start with a list of books about spring, when the whole earth (well, this hemisphere of it) resurrects, and new life buds and blooms in every corner.
You can find a list of my favorite traditional Easter stories here, and I’ll post more in the weeks to come. But today, we’re doing something a little different, something that looks at the new life promised in those crocuses and birds’ eggs.
These are books—many of them poetry—that make you want to go outside and wonder at the world contained within a droplet of water. They are books that till the soil within us so we are ready to consider the breaking up, sowing, and bursting forth that is Easter.
This sweet book echoes exactly my impatience right now. “First you have brown, all around you have brown . . . “. But Then It’s Spring reads like a poem—but a charming poem, not a chanty one. And Erin Stead illustrates it with all the warmth and beauty ofA Sick Day for Amos McGee (one of our favorites).
This “First Book of Nature” is full of poems that span the entire year, but we’ve been reading through the spring section for now, savoring Davies’ meditations on cherry blossoms and birds’ nests. The book is big, with gorgeous collage illustrations, bright colors, and text that celebrates the small beauties around us.
It is good to remember where all those plants begin, and wonderful to consider that they all spring from the ones spoken into being by God. Norman Messenger’s illustrations are filled with detail and life and do this first story justice. (Read the full review.)
These short poems are not only about spring, but they rest briefly on many spring-related topics, like flowers and small creatures and rain . Worth’s poems are a delight to read together, and remind us of the wonder tucked into some of the most ordinary aspects of our lives. (Read the full review.)
A Seed is Sleepy is one of a series of books on interesting aspects of nature. Sylvia Long’s illustrations are richly detailed and show the beauty and variety of the seeds that house strange flowers and plants from all around the world. This book is a beautiful reminder that though they don’t seem to be doing much right now, there are sleepy seeds laboring all around us right now.
These poems aren’t only about spring either—in fact, they go through a year’s worth of flowers—but spring means flowers and poetry to me, and these are the best flower poems I know. Cicely Mary Barker assigns each flower a corresponding fairy, then writes about that fairy’s quirks and temperament in a way that makes the poems easy to memorize and the flowers easy to recognize in the wild. Some of the newer collections of Flower Fairies add gimmicks like stories and crafts, but this one is just the poems, arranged by season, and Barker’s classic illustrations.
Lydia and I are reading this one together right now, and the image of those little green shoots peeping through the tangle of forgotten rose vines is enough to make my spring-hungry heart happy. A beautiful classic, and one that deserves its own post here on the blog.
Okay, so this book isn’t only about spring either, but it does fit spring within its context and I love that. John Updike wrote a poem for every month of the year, and Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations follow one family through all four seasons, poem by poem. It’s a wonderful book, and the poem “April” contains one of my favorite lines about spring anywhere: “The blushing, girlish world unfolds.” If that doesn’t describe spring, what does?
Once at a Young Author’s Conference, I heard Ruth Heller speak about illustrating children’s books. I liked her then, but I love her now—her detailed drawings and unexpected rhymes are just what subjects like grammar and botany need.
L. M. Montgomery’s books are worth reading at any time of the year. But there’s something about spring that makes me want to read and re-read her work, preferably on the front porch, where I can smell freshly tilled garden plots and see as many flowers as possible. (Read more about L. M. Montgomery.)
Imagine that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle had been written by Elisabeth Elliot, and you’ll have some idea what to expect from this book. But even so Humble Roots will probably surprise you. Hannah Anderson mediates on the topic of humility, weaving in stories from her life in rural Virginia as well as a vignette about a different flower or plant for each chapter. This is already one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Have you had a chance to check out the new Book List? You can find it here, or you can learn more about it in this post.
When we read a good book to our children, we delegate: we enlist the help of gifted authors to demonstrate for them (and for us, too) what life is like in other places, other times, other bodies. This is what it looks like, a good book says, to ask for forgiveness even when the asking is hard, to love the unloved, to find joy in the common graces of life.
A good book takes us outside our own experience, outside a particular moment where Papa reads aloud to the rest of us, who were drawing a moment before but now sit—sniffling, pens suspended—as we listen to Prince Rilian’s farewell to his father. This is grief. This is joy.
This is, in a sense, one aspect of what the Bible does for us: it shows us what it looks like to fight against God, to persevere when we don’t want to, to look forward to the life yet to come. We study the movements of the Lord’s hand through each story and find comfort in the fact that his hand moves in our stories, too. We watch other lives lived out in its pages and recognize ourselves in them; that recognition then shapes the way we respond to trouble when it comes. This is where rebellion leads; this is redemption.
And so we fill the corners of our hearts with Scripture and the corners of our home with good books. We surround our daughters with characters that they can connect with, characters who are foolish and funny, warm and wise, prone to mischief or perhaps a little too perfect. We introduce them to Anne, Jo, Heidi, Lucy,and Laura, of course. And then we move on to Bobbie, Phyllis and Irene, Emily and Rose—heroines of the lesser-known works of great authors or of the books picked up on a whim that are, perhaps, unassuming on the outside but radiant within.
Here, for your pleasure, is a list of our favorites. These stories don’t appeal exclusively to girls, by the way. Quite a few of them feature male characters that share the spotlight with the female lead or simply steal it outright, but they’re boys (and men) of good quality that I want my girls to know and love. I suspect that those of you with sons might find that your boys scoot their Legos a little closer to the couch whenever you pull these books out to read with your daughter. (I’ve marked those books with an asterisk.)
When their father is unexpectedly (and mysteriously) called away from home, three children move to the English countryside with their mother. Adventures large and small ensue, all told in the charming style of E. Nesbit. This book is one of my very favorites. (Read the full review.)
An old fairy tale of the best sort, written by an author who came to my attention because C.S. Lewis gave him a hearty endorsement. This is, I think, the best of his books for children, and features the princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. There is also a magical great-great-great-great-grandmother and a whole passel of ornery goblins. (Read the full review.)
Circumstances change abruptly, both in life and in plot lines. What Katy Did demonstrates both aspects of this, and through the story of Katy Carr, shows how the road of suffering often leads to the most glorious destinations. (Read the full review.)
Here is a marriage of history and fiction. Wendy Lawton tells the story of Mary Bunyan, the sightless daughter of John Bunyan, as she navigates life during her father’s imprisonment. This is a beautifully told story and shows the progress of Mary’s fledgling faith alongside the robust, proven faith of her father. (Read the full review.)
There is a good deal of “bashing of crowns” and “striking one another with blows” in this book, it’s true. But this unlikely candidate merits a spot on this list for three reasons: 1) Maid Marian is no nameless damsel in distress here but a woman bold, courageous, and virtuous. 2) The men in this book know how to treat the ladies. 3) My daughters loved it. (Read the full review.)
You already know about Anne. Emily of New Moon is the slightly darker tale—a deep violet to Anne’s brassy red, twilight to Anne’s fresh morning—of Emily Starr, poetess, orphan, and bewitching lead lady. My affection for this book is deep, my friends. So deep. (Read the full review.)
Have you heard of this book? I hadn’t either until a friend recommended it at a wedding reception dinner. But Treasures of the Snow is a beauty worth seeking out: in it, you’ll find the gospel faithfully represented in a fictional setting, as a feud rises up between two families that needs the wisdom of a grandmother and the power of the gospel to resolve. (Read the full review.)
The author of Bridge to Terebithia tells an old-fashioned tale of an arrogant prince who cannot assume the kingship until he finds a wife who is “his equal.” (He thinks himself so wonderful that this must be all but impossible.) The King’s Equal is available as either a very short chapter book or a rather long picture book. In either format, it’s a joy to read. (Read the full review.)
Okay, so you probably have heard of this one. It isn’t as famous than its celebrated cousin, The Secret Garden, but if I’m perfectly honest, I liked it better. Sara Crewe—wealthy and petted, but gentle and kind—suffers a fall of fortunes and determines to be a true princess throughout her trial. Unlikely friendships, unexpected blessings, and a satisfying conclusion spring from this decision. (Read the full review.)
Sheltered and newly orphaned Rose meets her uncle and eight boy cousins for the first time, finds them bewilderingly active but ultimately endearing and goes on to forge the best sort of friendship with them. This book is funny, charming, and beautiful all at once, and sparkles with the same delight in story and language that fuels Alcott’s Little Women. (Read the full review.)
It used to be that mysteries and love stories were my two least favorite forms of fiction. But Flavia de Luce and Sherlock Holmes won me over to mysteries, just as—well. If you’d like to read about the authors and characters that won me over to love stories, you can read my new piece, “How I Learned to Love Love Stories,” on the Deeply Rooted blog.
And while I’m sending you off to other sites, have you listened to Sarah McKenzie’s podcast, Read Aloud Revival? If you connect with anything on my blog at all, you’ll love it!
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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