Christmas has inspired many traditions, stories, and poems which fill the season with delight – the best of which point to the original tale from Bethlehem. The following are three lovely books that I hope my readers will find time to enjoy this December. Above all, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20 and the Scripture passages found in Handel’s Messiah.
An Illustrated Poem
I have read many of Jan Brett’s Christmas books, but only this year did I discover her illustrated version of Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Brett’s illustrations suit this famous Christmas poem. The pictures are full of warm, cheery colors and funny human and animal characters. I also like how there is a second little story playing out in the pictures in the margins.
Despite its uninviting title, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch is one of the best picture books I have ever read. The writing style, story, and illustrations are splendid. I especially love the onomatopoeia and parallelism that Susan Wojciechowski uses.
A Short Story
Other than The Muppet Christmas Carol, I have never liked a movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and until this year, movies were all the experience I had with the story. Then in February, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and illustrated by P. J. Lynch.
Pervading the story A Christmas Carol is an eeriness uncommon in Christmas stories. But despite its ghosts, somber spirits, and icy-hearted main character, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a beautiful tale of character change.
Confronted with a future of death and despair by the ghost of his former business partner Jack Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge fears he will never have a chance to change his life. Is it already too late? If so, why did he receive a warning? Full of desperate hope, Scrooge travels with three spirits, remembering his past, seeing his present, and passing through what could be his own future. Each story points Scrooge to new resolutions of personal change. With the 20-20 vision of hindsight, he views his past mistakes regretfully, understanding better what he should have been, but failed to be. The stories from the present show him the kind people he has mistreated and turned against himself – yet another reminder of his failures. The future reveals that Scrooge’s current path will lead to ignominy and lonely death. What kind of man will Scrooge be remembered as? Or will he even be remembered?
Though there are no open references to Christianity and Dickens held a works-righteousness worldview which plays out in Scrooge’s character changes, hints of the true meaning of Christmas and the Gospel shine through. The Ghost of Christmas Present demonstrates Christ-like attributes of mercy and the spread of goodwill. The possibility of heart-change echoes the message of the Gospel and reminds Christians of how wonderful, undeserved, and inexplicable God’s abundant mercy is. Even though Scrooge “saves” himself by good works and generosity, he would never have changed without outside forces acting upon him, and this is a good reminder of man’s lost condition without God’s condescending grace. Also, the fact that Scrooge is spared when many, like Marley, were not emphasizes the truth of unconditional election. Nothing requires God to save all men, or even any men. But in his inscrutable love, God has chosen to spare some.
With its very own title, A Christmas Carol reveals what this story truly is: “a song of praise or joy, especially for Christmas” (“Carol” 241). Dickens is reminding the world of the joy, hope, and redemption that Christ brought at Christmas for sinners that are just as selfish, miserly, and lost as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Patrick James Lynch was born in 1962 and has worked as an illustrator of children’s books since leaving Brighton College of Art in England in 1984. He has won many awards including the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Medal three times, and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, first for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and again for When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest (“Bio”). In recent years Lynch has designed posters and sets of stamps in addition to illustrating books. P. J. Lynch has lectured on his own work and on art and illustration at the National Gallery of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland and at the National Print Museum of Ireland, as well as at numerous conferences and colleges across the U.S. He illustrated beautiful versions of A Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi in 2006 and 2008 respectively. With his gorgeous and richly-detailed paintings, P. J. Lynch makes picture books a delight to read. P. J. Lynch lives in Dublin with his wife and their three young children (“Bio”).
“Bio.” PJ Lynch. 2011. 14 Nov. 2015 <www.pjlynchgallery.com/biog.html>
“Carol.” The American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1985.