This year’s Christmas book list contains something for Santa to bring to the youngsters as well as titles for you to put on your own wish list.
For ages 4-6, I suggest Toot and Puddle: Wish You Were Here by Holly Hobbie (2005, $16.99.) The early plot is told through a series of postcards relating Toot’s adventures in Wildest Borneo. The unfortunate explorer contracts a virus, but is lovingly nursed back to health by his friends.
The illustrations are charming, especially those of the Wild Pigs of Borneo, which are hysterical. The images of Toot drinking his medicine will bring a grin to child and adult readers. And this is perhaps the first picture book to feature a pig surfing the Web.
Ages 5 to 8 should enjoy Shibumi and the Kitemaker with story and pictures by Mercer Mayer (1999, $18.95.) Mayer’s beautiful illustrations are full of evocative details. And while the characters are dressed in kimono, and one of the heroes is a samurai, the tale is original.
The Princess Shibumi comes to understand that her comfortable life is sustained at tremendous cost to the people of her city. Her courage and determination place her in great danger, but inspire her emperor father to work day and night to right the wrongs she brings to light.
Mr. Emerson’s Cook by Judith Byron Schachner (1998, $15.99) should appeal to children ages 7-10 and to those who read aloud to them. She will enchant readers from the dedication page where she reveals that she is the great-granddaughter of the title character.
Annie Burns is an Irish immigrant who finds work as a cook in the household of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The “acclaimed poet and philosopher has stopped eating due to an overactive imagination.” But when Annie captures the morning sun in her pie, the famous man’s appetite is restored.
The next book is timeless, and its audience is ageless. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (2000, $8.99) is the tale of the Christ-like Aslan and his battle against the witch who has kept Narnia in the grip of perpetual winter, “without it ever being Christmas.”
His cause is aided by four English children who find their way into the magical land through an antique coat closet. Don’t allow anyone whom you love to believe that the Narnia series originated with this month’s film.
In Zorro: A Novel (2005, $24.95) Isabel Allende tells her version of the caped hero’s legend. Diego de la Vega is born in California in the days when it is still Mexico. His Shoshone mother gives him a mystical attachment to the land. His noble Spanish father sends him to Spain where he learns the art of the sword.
While there, he also develops his Zorro persona in response to the injustices he witnesses. Returning to California, he dedicates his efforts to punishing those who abuse the poor. Anyone who remembers the ’50s television series will enjoy how Allende remakes the bumbling Sgt. Garcia.
Emma Graham, the 12-year-old narrator of Belle Ruin: A Novel by Martha Grimes (2005, $25.95,) reminds me of Lily from The Secret Life of Bees. She is wise beyond her years, but puzzled by the motivations of the adults around her.
She’s also a hopeless liar. She wistfully explains that this tendency comes from her colorless life, “which depended on me for whatever color I could get. I’d much rather it came from outside, from someone or other so I didn’t have to work so hard.”
The environs of the Belle Rouen Hotel are peopled with all sorts of colorful characters. Emma questions them persistently in an attempt to discover the truth about a kidnapping that occurred in the 1930s (“a time that hardly existed since I wasn’t in it.”)
In A Short History of Nearly Everything (2004, $15.95,) Bill Bryson states “it isn’t easy being an organism. In the whole universe, as far as we yet know, there is only one place, an inconspicuous outpost of the Milky Way called Earth, that will sustain you, and even it can be pretty grudging.”
Bryson’s light style easily conveys masses of scientific fact and stories of scientists and explorers who seem a bit lunatic. This is the ideal book for the competent reader of any age who is interested both in what we know about the earth and in how we arrived at that knowledge.
Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley (2004, $19.95) was recommended by Father Richard Hunt, SJ, director of the Interfaith Center at Rochester Institute of Technology. He praises it highly for its accessible and lucid style.
The author was a student of Thomas Merton and is now a practicing therapist. Father Hunt told me “it’s written by a lay person, for lay people.” For those of us who need a practical guide to contemplation, Chapters 7-14 are “devoted to an in-depth exploration of meditation practices as our grounding place in our ongoing fidelity to our self-transforming journey into God.”
A genizah is a place where damaged or discredited documents which bear God’s name — and which therefore cannot be destroyed — are stored in perpetuity. In The Genizah at the House of Shepher by Tamar Yellin (2005, $19.95,) the “house” is both the residence of, and the family of, Shepher. The genizah is also both.
A valuable ancient manuscript has been discovered in the attic of a crumbling house in Jerusalem. As Shula, a 40-year-old English Bible scholar, struggles to discover its origins, she uncovers her own.
The narrative travels through 130 years of her family history. Her great-grandfather searched for the Ten Lost Tribes. Her Zionist grandfather was a hopeless dreamer. Her deceased parents’ life together was never peaceful.
The history of the City of Jerusalem is equally compelling. The house, located near the Western Wall, is scheduled for demolition, which adds intensity to her search, as does the mysterious Gideon who claims rightful ownership of the Codex.
I wish you all a cozy chair, a mug of tea and a good book for Christmas.
Palma is an adjunct English instructor at Nazareth and Monroe Community colleges in Rochester. She earned an MS in education at Nazareth College and an MA in theology at St. Bernard’s Institute.