A Batch of New Christmas Stories
By Jennie Hansen

Christmas time is a time filled with stories, especially the old and dear ones and there are plenty of those still available this year. There are a few that first appeared as pamphlets that are now beautiful full-sized picture books such as Christmas for A Dollar by Gale Sears with art work by Ben Sowards and Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Another beautiful new picture story book is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Lloyd and Karmel Newell, illustrated by Dan Burr.

Familiar names that top the sentimental Christmas books list year after year have new titles out this year including The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans, Christmas Jars Reunion and Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle by Jason Wright, and Anita Stansfield’s full length novel, The Best of Times.  These books are all available at LDS bookstores.

Each Christmas season a batch of new Christmas stories appear and this year is no exception.  Most are short and some are really short.  Some are sentimental tales, some are inspirational, some are clever, some are nostalgic, and some add a touch of romance, a hint of magic or miracles, and some are tearjerkers.  Here’s a sampling of the new Christmas books which have crossed my desk this year.

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This first one lightly brushes the first Christmas story and the birth of the Christ Child, but it is the fictional story of one of the shepherds.  It brings an added depth of understanding to the biblical account through the setting, time period, and events of that sacred night. The Shepherd’s Song by Larry Barkdull is the story of a man whose wife lies near death as she goes into labor a month too soon.  She is hemorrhaging badly and hasn’t felt the baby move for two days.  He doesn’t want to leave her side, but she begs him to pray for her.  He loves his wife with all of his heart and he is devastated that after waiting seven years for a child, theirs appears to be dead.  Being a shepherd, he chooses a lamb for an offering, not just any lamb, but one that is especially dear to him, then sets out on his journey to the temple in Jerusalem to plead for his wife and child.

This story feels authentic with its carefully interwoven Judean background and customs.  It flows smoothly and though it touches the heart, it is not overly sentimental.  There are subtle parallels to the nativity story and hints of what is to come.  Several biblical figures and events appear in the story before the climatic ending and though the reader knows what is coming, these enhance the story.  The reader will leave this story with a deep sense of the love and sacrifice that is the real Christmas story.  This one is definitely on my recommended reading list.

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Christmas on Mill Street by Joseph Walker touched a special spot for me, though Walker’s sixties seemed more like fifties to me.  This is the story of a little boy who has just moved from Arizona to Utah and doesn’t quite fit in with the other boys.  When his classmates talk about a particularly challenging sledding hill and dream of a Flexible Flyer sled, Sam Andrews begins to dream of getting one of the yearned-for sleds for Christmas and flying down the hill so that the other boys will accept him into their group.  He’d never experienced snow before and had never ridden on a sled, but somehow he knew that facing Mill Street on a Flexible Flyer was the one sure way to gain acceptance.  One after another attempt to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas is thwarted and he becomes certain he is on Santa’s naughty list.  Sibling rivalry creates its share of problems and being the youngest and big for his age doesn’t help any.  Neither does an old woman, who just might be a witch and who lives on Mill Street, bode well for his chances of gaining the other boys’ respect and friendship.

The narration of this story is smooth and comfortable with a few well-placed asides that add to the story’s charm.  Granted, I grew up in Idaho, not Utah, but Flexible Flyer style sleds were pretty well out by the early sixties and most of my acquaintances were riding plastic sleds at that time. A few wooden sleds, relics bequeathed from older siblings, still hung around and weren’t too popular.  Still, the sled itself isn’t important.  The story of a young boy’s struggle to fit in and the relationships he forges both within his family and with others in the community are what matter and Walker illuminates these realistically and with humor, a touch of nostalgia, and a generous helping of charm that will delight readers.

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An Angel on Main Street by Kathi Oram Peterson is a story I suspect is destined to become one of the Season’s traditional favorites.  It is the story of a young boy, Micah, who is trying to be the man of the family following the death of his father during the Korean War, but he keeps getting in trouble.  He wants to help his mother and critically ill little sister and he resents the small town sheriff who seems to be trying to take over his family.  He feels a great deal of guilt and self-blame for his failures to measure up to his family’s needs or even his own high expectations. A crche is being mysteriously constructed a short distance from the small, sparsely furnished apartment where he lives.  His sister believes it is a sign she will get well and looks forward to Christmas when a figure representing the Christ Child will be placed in the manager.  Micah doesn’t believe God cares anything about him or his family and that his sister will be disappointed, but he does think that if he can find the doll intended for the manger and give it to his sister, it might give her enough hope to overcome her illness, though even the doctor has given up hope she will live until Christmas.

The story has all of the elements which could make it one of those sloppy, maudlin stories I dislike, but that doesn’t happen here. The story touches the heart without melodrama or manipulated tears.  The writing is crisp, the plot flows smoothly, and the characters feel real. It is a story to treasure.

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Santa Maybe by Aubrey Mace is a delightful slice of romance iced with a bit of fantasy.  What if a woman, who has given up on love and romance, in a moment of weakness asked Santa for a man?  And what if she found a perfectly intriguing and non-threatening man asleep in his pajamas under her tree Christmas morning?  Of course Abby doesn’t believe in such nonsense—or does she?  She’s a hard working woman with a bakery to run who isn’t certain she can buy Ben’s amnesia story.  Could he really not know who he is or how he got under her tree?  Together Abby and Ben set out to discover who Ben really is, where he came from, and whether or not he’s really available.

This story is cleverly written with excellent pacing and dialogue. It’s also a welcome departure from the sentimental fare that always appears around Christmas time.  It’s also a lively, fun romance.  Santa Maybe will provide an enjoyable respite for women and teens caught up in the frantic seasonal rush.  It’s one of those breaths of fresh air that enhances something wonderful, making it even better.  I found this to be a great change-of-pace delight to read.

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Several original short story compilations, some of which can double as Christmas cards, are new this year.  All is Bright is a collection of eight true stories featuring well-known authors Anita Stansfield, Annette Lyon, Heather Moore, Gregg Luke, Kristen McKendry, Lynn Jaynes, Matthew Buckley, and Julie Wright.  Another compilation of note is Stolen Christmas, a collection of winners from the annual Christmas writing contest held by LDS Publisher, a favorite blog of writers.  These stories cover a wide range of styles and genres.  The authors range from popular, well-known authors to first timers. 

Under Christmas Stars by Fred C. Rowley is a skinny little book with two stories.  The first concerns the healing of a rift between two old farmers who were once friends and partners.  They had a falling out and had nothing to do with each other for eight years until an act of kindness became the catalyst to start them rethinking their animosity toward each other.

The second story is a tender account of a large family dealing with injury, death, and poverty who have to make a difficult and painful decision. The years go by, but Maria’s loss lingers dimming each Christmas celebration until she is an old woman and a miracle occurs.  This story is based on real events and is especially touching.

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THE SHEPHERD’S SONG, by Larry Barkdull, published by Deseret Book, paperback, 124 pages, $9.95

CHRISTMAS ON MILL STREET by Joseph Walker, published by Shadow Mountain, hard cover, 133 pages, $14.95

AN ANGEL ON MAINSTREET by Kathi Oram Peterson, published by Covenant, paperback, 99 pages, $8.95

SANTA MAYBE by Aubrey Mace, published by Cedar Fort, paperback, 184 pages, $13.99

ALL IS BRIGHT by various authors, published by Covenant, paperback, $3.96

STOLEN CHRISTMAS by various authors, $7.99

UNDER CHRISTMAS STARS by Fred C. Rowley, published by Covenant, paperback,  $4.95

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