Welcome back to Day Seven of my special Home for the Holidays feature here on the blog. It’s been a wonderful daily treat for me to share so many holiday-themed posts and I really hope you’re enjoying them as well. Today we have a lovely post from Katie at Spirit of Children’s Literature, in which she shares some of her favorite holiday stories that infuse some spirituality in its pages. There’s nothing better than a beautiful book that helps us dig a little deeper and the three she suggests today are bound to do just that.
The Holidays: Time for Family, Friends, (Reading!!), and for many, nurturing their spirituality. Whether you consider yourself spiritual or not, there are SO MANY books for Children and Young Adults that reflect spiritual dimensions—and I’m not just talking religion—I’m thinking about spirituality in a broader sense.
One way I think of spirituality in literature is the way some books speak to our hearts. I love what Gladys Hunt says about looking for books with spiritual depth: “A sense of permanent worthwhileness surrounds really great literature. Laughter, pain, hunger, satisfaction, love, joy—the ingredients of human life are found in depth and leave a residue of mental and spiritual richness in the reader.” I love this—“the ingredients of human life are found in depth”!
So for this fabulous feature from What Sarah Read for the holidays, I thought of highlighting three different holiday-ish books:
One Classic, One Middle Grade, and One YA.
They are all perfect for reading during this Christmas season and they all reflect thought-provoking spiritual dimensions—even if those aspects are related to a broader conception of the spiritual.
The Classic: Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott
Yes, it’s a classic set in 19th century New England, published in 1868, and though it may be a slower read than what many of us reading contemporary novels are used to, it’s not one to pass up! And Christmas time is the perfect season to read it—it opens with a quote by Jo who is grumbling about not having any presents at Christmas. Following the Christmas joys and trials of the four sisters is entertaining—trust me.
Though your father might not be away at war this year, and you might have plenty to eat as well as presents under the tree, the book reflects valuable themes of sacrifice, love, and not settling on being anyone else but yourself. We have a heroine who must write at all costs, and a family who goes through difficult circumstances, but refuses to give up hope and faith in the good. Yes, there are some religious undertones in the story, but even if you don’t like that kind of thing, it’s not off-putting. Consider it a window into a time when religion and spirituality were pretty important in the lives of families. Little Women is chock full of history, laugh aloud moments, (“ ‘That boy is a perfect Cyclops, isn’t he?’ said Amy.”) and spirituality. Each of the girls—Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy have their own hopes, joys, and struggles. These can be relevant for readers today, even though the book was written over a hundred years ago.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
“Love is a great beautifier.”
“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
If you haven’t read Little Women, and you feel the inkling for a classic to read by the fire with a cup of apple cider, consider picking up this gem. In fact, this is the book for the December read-along happening over at The Midnight Garden on December 19th.
The Middle Grade: The Silver Donkey (2004) by Sonya Harnett
If you haven’t read The Silver Donkey, you’re in for a treat! And you’re in great luck—the holidays are the perfect time to dive into this book. First, here’s the GoodReads summary:
One morning in the woods of World War I France, two young sisters stumble upon an astonishing find — a soldier, temporarily blinded by war, who has walked away from battle longing to see his gravely ill younger brother. Soon the care of the soldier becomes the girls’ preoccupation, but it’s not just the secret they share that emboldens them to steal food and other comforting items for the man. They are fascinated by what he holds in his hand — a tiny silver donkey. As the girls and their brother devise a plan for the soldier’s safe passage home, he repays them by telling four wondrous tales about the humble donkey — from the legend of Bethlehem to a myth of India, from a story of rescue in war to a tale of family close to the soldier’s heart. Sonya Hartnett explores rich new territory in this inspiring tale of kindness, loyalty, and courage.
Those tales the soldier tells the children are priceless. You won’t want to put this gem of a story down until you’re finished. The blind soldier carries a silver donkey, which triggers beautiful (and sometimes sad) tales that are moving and beautifully written. In addition to the obvious allusions to Biblical story (through the telling of the legend of Bethlehem), there are rich spiritual themes of sacrifice, bravery, and love. If you love animals, this is definitely the book for you—you may be moved to tears at some parts, but it’s worth it.
“They thought back on the tales that the soldier had told. They remembered Hazel, the gentle Bethlehem donkey, who used the last of her strength helping those who needed her. They remembered the donkey who stood on the mountain and accepted suffering so that others would not know pain. They remembered the donkey with a hundred names, the sturdy friend of Jack who proved that the most humble being can have the most courageous heart.”
Hartnett is an Australian writer who won the Astrid Lindgren Award in 2008—the world’s most prestigious award for a writer of children’s and youth literature. If you have never read anything of hers before, now might be the time to begin!
The YA: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (2010) by Rachel Cohn & David Leviathan
Now for the perfect Holiday YA Novel! In Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, it’s almost Christmas and Lily is looking for love. Dash discovers a red notebook while browsing through books at New York City’s famous Strand bookstore. The notebook belongs to Lily, a teenager who has left a series of dares for a boy who feels up to the challenge. Dash’s completion of the first set of dares sets in motion a relationship via the red notebook that brings the two teenagers closer and closer together. Will they ever meet? Will the idea of one another match up with the real Dash and Lily?
As many of us know, letter writing is not as common as it once was. In this story, a girl and boy’s relationship is largely cultivated through a series of written notes and challenges. Because they haven’t seen each other, they have to go by the tone of those notes, the content, and the challenges. In other words, they are going by the spirit of the messages, and getting to know one another in a way that most of us don’t experience with those closest to us. This is so interesting to me—because I think letters between people can nurture (in some cases) a deeper connection, even a spiritual connection. So, in one way, I see the idea of a significant relational connection at work in this book—and that’s another way to think about the spiritual dimension in a story.
“The important people in our lives leave imprints. They may stay or go in the physical realm, but they are always there in your heart, because they helped form your heart. There’s no getting over that.”
“There are just lots of possibilities in the world…I need to keep my mind open for what could happen and not decide that the world is hopeless if what I want to happen doesn’t happen. Because something else great might happen in between.”
I love this book! It’s a fun, light read that illustrates the beauty of letter writing and appreciating the geography of one’s hometown. It’s also a story that asks questions about finding that “special” someone and how relationships work and don’t work.
This was such a fun post to write! Thank you to Sarah for hosting this fantastic holiday event.
There are so many other books that are fantastic reads for the holidays, but obviously I can’t name them all here. Are there books you love that bring out the Christmas spirit in you or engage your spirituality? I would love to hear about them!
Happy Holidays to All!
Thank you so much Katie for such a wonderfully thought-provoking post. The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect and look inside ourselves, and I think the books you have suggested here are great ways to facilitate that frame of mind. Daphne @ Gone Pecan is stopping by tomorrow to share some of HER favorite holiday reads. I can just hear everyone’s TBR piles growing by the minute!